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Archives Clinton county pastor helps parishioners face change and challenges with optimism
All politics - even for priests - is local


By Shawn Ryan
Staff writer

Plattsburgh - All politics is local, as the story goes. Nowhere is that more true than at St. John’s Parish and theCanaan neighboring Plattsburgh State University community.

For roughly the last two years, throughout the recent presidential election of a year ago and beyond, Americans of all political stripes have debated and argued over the status of foreigners  and foreign students, in this country both legally and illegally.

This past summer during the summer hiatus from classes, Father Timothy Canaan noticed something strange going on in Plattsburgh. He saw a change in the attendance of some of the summer get-togethers  that St. John XXIII Newman Center holds for students who take classes or stay in Plattsburgh during the summer months.
Early in the summer he noticed that far more foreign students attended their scheduled get-together than in years past. The reason, he says, was quite apparent.

“It’s because of the political climate we’re in,” he said. “This summer many international students didn’t go home because they were fearful that they couldn’t come back.”

Where they usually host one event during the summer, offering a much loved and nostalgic home cooked meal and a chance for fellowship with other students, this year the Newman Center hosted three events. 

We had well over 100 students at each event,” Father Canaan said, explaining that that is well above the numbers they normally get at one. “That fear is very real. We had to step up our game because there is a definite need.” In fact, he said, one Plattsburgh State student from Russia who possessed a valid student visa was prevented from returning to this country for the fall semester, after she had returned home for the summer.
While those events certainly benefited the students, they also benefit the Newman Center according to Father Canaan, giving exposure to the fact that there is a Newman Center, the only one still operating in the diocese, right across the road from the campus. “They find a connection here,” he said.

With school now back in session, the St. John’s community is actively looking for more ways to support both their foreign and domestic students, regardless of the increased numbers of mouths they have to feed.

Parish planning
But ministering to the needs of foreign students is far from the only change going on at one of the diocese’s most venerable parishes. Throughout the summer and fall the parish steering committee on the realignment plan has been meeting and pressing forward with their work.

While the work is hard, and touches on aspects of  religious life which Catholics hold dear, Father Canaan says that, overall, the plans have been met with a positive response.

“Change is difficult for most people and we’re asking them to come out of their comfort zones,” he said. “But the people understand the place we’re in with the lack of vocations, and they’re trying to put their personal feelings aside and look to the good of the Church.”

This month the three Plattsburgh parishes of St. John’s, St. Peter’s and Our Lady of Victory are submitting their long debated plans to Bishop LaValley for his consideration.

On the topic of vocations, and even in the face of the impending realignment plans, Father Canaan sees reason to be up-beat.

With the increase in the numbers of seminarians recently entering the seminary, he feels that the ongoing prayers of countless members of the diocese  may finally be  answered, signaling a new trend.

“We live in a society that is so counter-cultural to commitment, choosing a religious vocation is against the grain of society,” he said

But he is hopeful that the current trend will continue.

So even in the face of future and current changes, the parishioners at St. John’s along with their pastor are pressing on with their Catholic mission, with the unflappable spirit that has shepherded them through nearly a century and a half as one of the most stalwart Catholic communities in the entire Northeast region.

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