That is to say, from the Holy Father (who has con-
tinually urged the faithful to prayerfully turn to Christ,
who offers love, not scorn); from Bishop Scharfenberger
(who trusts his diocese can flourish in faith from the tiny
mustard seed of prayers and good works); and from her
pastor, Fr. Slezak (who says, “If it has anything to do
with Divine Mercy, there’s no way it won’t bear fruit”).
That’s why Alice is here — and because the spiritual
decline of her own family painfully mirrors in microcosm
that of the diocese itself. Of her six grown children, only
one remains a regular churchgoer.
“Two come when I beg them to,” she says. “Two are
devout atheists, and one is agnostic. This — and we sacri-
ficed long and hard to send them all to Catholic school.”
It’s an all-too-familiar story.
Due largely to declining Mass attendance, the Albany
diocese has closed dozens of parishes
in recent years. Holy Trinity itself is
the only remaining Catholic parish
in Cohoes. There used to be seven.
The steady slide toward “post-
Christianity” is hardly unique to
Albany; it’s just that it’s happening
more rapidly here than in other
parts of the country, the Barna
survey indicates. In the greater
Albany region, 66 percent of those
surveyed have decoupled them-
selves from affiliation with the
Christian faith. The national aver-
age is 44 percent. Two generations
ago, this would have been unheard
of in a nation built from the beach-
head of European Christian settlers.
What’s missing here?
As they will do each Tuesday evening leading up to
their consecration, the Holy Trinity parishioners partici-
pating in the
retreat will break into small groups
to pray and discuss their families, their faith, their dio-
cese, the world, and their Christian responsibilities.
“We need to find out why people are leaving the faith
in the first place,” Doris Blais says to her fellow group
members on that opening night.
To that point, Bishop Scharfenberger, who took over
the 334,000-member diocese in 2014, has a theory
that breaks from the boilerplate excuse of collective
“We are in an age where secularism has become
a religion unto itself,” he says. “But we do need to
acknowledge that the secular mentality
to be inclusive,
to be forgiv-
ing. But what’s being lost in all of this is the integration
between a life of good works and a life of prayer, which is
oriented toward God, our Creator.”
To that point, the Diocese of Albany maintains its
long-held role as a powerful force of civic good in its
emphasis on Catholic works of charity, much of that
done in tandem with other denominations and govern-
ment agencies. “But are we praising God as the Source of
all that’s good?” Bishop Scharfenberger asks. The ques-
tion is rhetorical. The answer is, “Hardly.”
And this is where Fr. Gaitley’s program comes in.
The Jubilee Year connection
As Divine Providence would have it, just as Pope
Francis was inaugurating the extraordinary Jubilee Year
of Mercy last Dec. 8, Fr. Gaitley
was finishing writing
to Merciful Love
, a do-it-yourself
retreat that — like his 2011 book
on Marian consecration,33 Days to Morning Glory —
can be done
alone or in a group.
Indeed, as the Holy Father
was calling upon the faithful to
rediscover the mercy of God as
the Source of strength and hope,
Fr. Gaitley was unearthing and
unpacking profound insights
from St. Thérèse into the love of
Christ, who longs to pour out His
mercy, especially on sinners; her
discernment that sinners often
close their hearts to the Lord’s
mercy, a rejection that causes
Jesus great suffering; and how she asked Jesus to pour
into her soul all the rejected mercy that others didn’t
want, so that she could distribute it through prayer to a
Since its release earlier this year, more than 100,000
people worldwide have made the consecration.
Father Gaitley wrote the book from his home at theNational Shrine of The Divine Mercy,
Massachusetts, a mere four miles from the border of the
Diocese of Albany. When he got wind of Albany’s “post-
Christian” ranking, his Marian charism of going “where
the need is greatest” kicked in.
He and Bishop Scharfenberger formed a close bond.
Father Gaitley has made more than a dozen sorties into
the diocese to speak about the consecration. The parishes
Bishop Scharfenberger opens his diocese’s
Holy Door in Albany last Dec. 8, at the start
of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
On Nov. 20, when that door closes, he knows
other doors will open.