The Rev. Paul Angelicchio is a busy man.
Between the two parishes he serves in Rome – the Catholic Churches of St. John the Baptist and the Transfiguration of Our Lord parish – he averages about 130 funerals a year. Preparing for those, weddings, daily Masses and baptisms, among other responsibilities, can take its toll.
"Thank God we don't punch a clock," joked Angelicchio of managing the pastoral duties of more than one parish. "It's really a 24-7 job."
Angelicchio isn't alone taking on additional parishes as the number of priests continues its decline. The Rev. Joseph Salerno, for example, in addition to his roles as pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica and the regional vicar in the Utica area for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, also is parish administrator at St. John the Evangelist Church in New Hartford.
Though Angelicchio and Salerno, who could not be reached for comment, have taken on those responsibilities, priest shortages within the diocese of Syracuse are not new.
Since 1974, the 400-strong priests of the diocese have declined steadily and heavily. This year, that number is nearly sheared in half to 214, said Danielle Cummings, spokeswoman for the diocese.
Also, according to diocesan projections, by 2020 there will be only five priests age 45 or younger, 57 ages 45 to 69, and 19 ages 70-75.
"In the '50s and '60s, families spoke about expecting that someone in their family would become a priest," she said. "Society has changed over the years, and I think that's one of the main reasons influencing those numbers."
In its continuing effort to cope with the shortage, the diocese launched "Seeing Natural Bridges" in this fall to reorganize what resources are available to the 131 parishes, the newest phase as part of an organization plan begun in the 1980s.
Instead of closing and merging churches – something the diocese did in the early 2000s and a process the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York is looking into again – Cummings said the intent is to look at what resources are contained in the parishes and how they can be organized for maximum benefit.
"We have to meet the spiritual needs of our faithful and find the best ways to do exactly that," she said.
That could include clustering parishes based on their geographic location. Hypothetically, if there are five priests serving 10 parishes within a 15-mile radius, the diocese might cluster those churches together and pare down the pastors to two or three.
Right now, parishes are gathering numbers of parishioners, financial documents and other bits of information that will lay groundwork for a larger plan, Cummings said.
The diocese and local priests, however, say there is a silver lining with the priest shortage: laypeople stepping up to perform more roles.
Page 2 of 2 - A layperson, someone who is not ordained but takes on some pastoral duties, can be a salaried or volunteer position, which could be easier on some churches' finances, Cummings said.
Angelicchio said he has about 25 staff members taking care of finances, sitting on parish councils and managing facilities.
"I couldn't do it without them," he said. "I mean, my facilities manager alone, he's been a huge plus. A lot of people have stepped up to the plate."
The Rev. Jim Cesta of St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish in Utica, said many of the Mohawk Valley's churches have had to do more with less, but laypeople have helped him as well.
Instead of a priest having to divide his already tight schedule to prepare couples for weddings or visiting the family of a sick parishioner, he said laity is doing more of those duties.
"They're taking care of the nuts and bolts, something that priests used to have to do," he said. "I think we're more than just managing."