The Dominican Sisters of Amityville have left a convent in an Amityville parish where they had a presence for nearly 100 years.
The order left St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church for the last time on Friday, as declining numbers of nuns made it impractical for the order to continue to live and work in the parish. It is an issue — and a trend — affecting religious orders throughout the country.
“I am proud of the work that we have done, the ministry we have done with the people and for the people,” said Sister Barbara Schwarz, one of the last nuns to leave the convent. “And they have ministered to us as well. With them the preaching will continue."
“But there is a sadness of having to walk away from over 100 years of presence,” she said. “There’s a sadness about having to move after having lived here for 25 years.”
The order decided to leave the convent because just a few sisters were left in a building that used to house up to 20, Schwarz said. At 68, she was the youngest nun there.
“It’s time,” she said. “When you start hitting those numbers, and the median age of the community, the reality is we don’t have” enough sisters to justify remaining in the convent.
The nuns who left went to other convents or the order's motherhouse, Schwarz said.
Nationwide, the number of religious sisters has dropped from a historic high of 179,954 in 1965 to 45,605 in 2017, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
The Dominican Sisters of Amityville had about 1,200 nuns in 1975, said Sister Peggy McVetty, who entered the order that year and also has worked at St. Martin of Tours. Now it has 381.
The Amityville Sisters worked in St. Martin of Tours since at least 1921, when a parish school staffed largely by nuns opened, Schwarz said.
She believes their presence goes back even further. Records show a priest baptized a child in the parish in 1877, and she is convinced some of the sisters were involved, partly because the order’s motherhouse, or headquarters, is not far away in Amityville. The motherhouse was started in 1876 on what had been a farm as the sisters expanded their work from Brooklyn.
One longtime parishioner at St. Martin’s, Michelle Hackett, said the nuns will be missed.
“We’re all very sad,” said Hackett, whose link with the sisters goes back to the early 1970s when she studied at the parish school. “They’re an icon. They taught us well. It is a shame that they are gone.”
The largest order on Long Island, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, faces similar issues.
In July, three members of the order left Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church in West Babylon, ending the order’s presence at that parish of more than a half-century.
“When you are the last ones in a site or a spot where much good and much development and growth over the decades that happened, it is very difficult to leave it,” said Sister Alice McVey, one of the last sisters to leave the parish.
The Sisters of St. Joseph lived and worked at Our Lady of Grace for at least 57 years, McVey said.
“However, the other piece of that is the parishioners who have risen to the fore as part of the staff and the teachers,” she said. “This is where the church is moving. It is moving into this group of dedicated parishioners who will continue the faith, because there are not going to be that many women religious” or priests.