Final Appeal For St. Mary's In Lockport

August 29, 2011 Updated Aug 29, 2011 at 7:02 PM EDT

By WKBW Admin

August 29, 2011 Updated Aug 29, 2011 at 7:02 PM EDT

(Lockport, N.Y.) Starting September 1, 2010, Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Lockport will be converted to an Oratory.

It is disappointing news for the nearly 1200 families that belong there.

In 2005, St. Mary's was targeted for closure as part of the Diocese of Buffalo's parish consolidation plan called "Journey in Faith and Grace."

St. Mary's was one of four Lockport churches that were to be merged into the new "All Saints Parish."

But parishioners at St. Mary's had other ideas.

They conducted a vigorous campaign to keep the historic church open - putting up billboards and appealing to the Vatican.

In July, the Vatican ruled that Bishop Edward Kmiec could proceed with his revised decree to use the church for special religious services like marriages and funerals.

"In reality, it doesn't keep us open. It closed us. We can't worship there." says St. Mary's Trustee Mike Ulrich.

Wednesday evening starting at 6pm, a final candlelight prayer service will be held at the church.

"It is a long shot . . . but there is still a light at the end of the tunnel," adds Mike Ulrich.

A final appeal questioning the Diocese of Buffalo's decision to reduce St. Mary's to an Oratory was recently filed in Rome.

A ruling on that appeal is not expected until October or November of this year.

Kevin Keenan, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Buffalo, says the driving force for the closing is the severe lack of priests and the shrinking number of Catholics.

In 1960, WNY had over 11,000 active priests - that number dropped to just 280 in 2010.

In 1980, WNY had 850,000 Catholics - that number dropped to 633,550 by 2010.