CANTON — Though St. Mary’s School permanently closed after its 90th year in June, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has fueled nationwide uncertainty, faith endures.

Across dozens of churches in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, which spans eight counties in the north country, parishioners continue to worship every week, virtually and in person at limited sanctuary capacities.

At St. Mary’s on Court Street, the 2020-21 Faith Formation education program begins this month, with about 80 families expected to participate in the pandemic-style and flexible virtual series.

Father Bryan D. Stitt said the church’s decision to shift all religious education to remote platforms this year was based on three priorities — health, happiness and holiness.

“Faith is essential,” Father Stitt said. “People are seeing that more and more these days. They know the need for hope, and they want to know more. So we couldn’t imagine not offering Faith Formation in the COVID world.”

In place of traditional Sunday morning religious education, an interactive online program called Spirit of Truth will serve as the primary weekly education platform, geared toward kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.

St. Mary’s hosted a virtual orientation session Wednesday night, and families can get started as early as next week, Father Stitt said.

“It’s so important to remember what the church has taught for ages, that parents are educators themselves,” he said, adding that St. Mary’s educators and theologians will be available for support and to answer faith questions. “It always works best when parents are on board, so I’m excited about it.”

A tough year even before the global health crisis gripped New York mid-March, 2020 has been bittersweet for the more than 500 members of the St. Mary’s church and school communities.

Following a decade of declining enrollment and revenue, sufficient funds were raised in 2018 to keep St. Mary’s School open for the 2018-19 school year.

By January 2019, benchmarks had been set to outline progress into and after the 2019-20 year.

“Despite countless efforts,” Father Stitt wrote in a letter to parents and parishioners in November 2019, St. Mary’s council unanimously recommended the school be closed in June 2020.

During the final end-of-year celebration at the nursery-through-sixth-grade elementary school in June, 52 students were celebrated.

Though students have since transitioned into new districts or home school arrangements, Father Stitt said faith formation didn’t end with the school’s closure.

“St. Mary’s School for 90 years gave families an experience of truth and goodness and beauty,” he said. “And we see this program as a great continuation of that tradition for the modern world.”

More information about the religious education program and St. Mary’s services is posted to the parish’s website.

The church office can be reached at 315-386-2543.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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