The past decade has been unlike any other for Monsignor Joseph Staudt.
As the sole priest on Sacred Heart Parish in Cutchogue, the monsignor has had to adjust to single-handedly serving a parish about one-fifth the size of others he’s previously served in as a Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. But thanks to the parishioners, it has been a smooth transition.
“I would say the sense of family is what this parish is,” he said. “Friends of mine from other parishes I’ve been in, when they come to visit, they say, ‘What a warm, friendly parish you have.’ People seem to be very caring about each other and there’s a great atmosphere and just a friendliness.”
Over his 10-year tenure, the priest’s closeness within the parish, which has about 1,000 member families, has grown stronger. He celebrated his decade with the parish at Masses last weekend.
One thing he appreciates is the spirit of volunteerism of many North Forkers. Knowing he’s the parish’s only priest — a change from the two to four who were assigned to each parish he worked in previously — Monsignor Staudt said many churchgoers offer to help him in anyway possible.
“One of the things that’s really incredibly wonderful is people think of me as far as food,” he said. “They say, ‘You must not have time to cook,’ which I don’t, so people will make a meal and they’ll bring it to me … that’s one example of how people think about me. People take care of me out here.”
This generous spirit has been especially helpful as the parish is in the midst of consolidating two locations — Sacred Heart Church in Cutchogue, which has been closed since January 2013, and Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Mattituck — into one.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre hopes to sell its property and buildings in Cutchogue and use money from those sales to build a smaller rectory and a parish center at the Mattituck location, Monsignor Staudt said.
“We can do more things socially,” he said. “People don’t want to drive after Mass [in Mattituck] to Cutchogue. When we have the parish center in Mattituck we can have doughnuts, bagels and coffee after Mass … when the rectory is there, I can walk right over to the church instead of driving a few miles. I’m looking forward to it.”
The former convent that sat across the street from Sacred Heart Church was sold last year to a buyer who wants to turn it into office space and apartments, he said. Currently, the parish is in contract with Southold Town to sell the development rights to 23 acres of land adjacent to the parish cemetery on Depot Lane in Cutchogue.
Monsignor Staudt said that when he started in the parish on June 18, 2007, he didn’t expect that a few years later it would undertake such a large project as selling the Cutchogue property. But he hopes the consolidation will mean he can serve Sacred Heart’s parishioners longer.
He explained that, under diocese rules, Roman Catholic priests are allowed to serve two six-year terms at one church before they are transferred to a new location. However, if the bishop deems it the most stable option for a particular parish, he may grant a priest permission to continue to serve beyond the 12-year mark.
Monsignor Staudt hopes that will happen.
“They’re very thoughtful and generous,” he said of his parishioners. “I’m humbled by it.”
Photo caption: Monsignor Joseph Staudt pictured in 2016. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)