Parish consolidations, collaborations

Discussion, comments and suggestions.

All are invited as people in two rural deaneries reflect in the coming months on proposed pastoral plans released by the archdiocese June 13 that include nine parishes consolidating with other parishes, regional clusters of parishes sharing personnel, resources and programs, and schools forming area systems or networks.

"It’s an unfolding process," said Father Daniel Andrews, dean of the impacted rural central deanery and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk. "A lot of people are engaged in the process. There are complexities to it. One move tends to affect others …"

"I think it’s necessary to look at all the options," said Father Michael Swanton, dean of the affected rural southwest deanery and pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus. Suggestions are welcome, he said.

And the proposals – already based on demographic data and months of gathering suggestions from parish and school leaders – can change, as long as suggestions meet the needs of each area, said Deacon Stephen Luna, director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese.

"These are initial recommendations," he said.

Driven by a desire to best use resources to meet the archdiocese’s pastoral vision and priority plan, which has been summarized in the phrase, "One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy," the proposals for the two deaneries stem from discussions and information gathering that began in September and were compiled by the archdiocese’s Pastoral Planning Office and Wisconsin-based Meitler consulting group.

They are part of a pastoral planning process that by the end of 2019 will have included all six rural deaneries. The proposals will be discussed through mid-August at the two deaneries’ 31 parishes and studied by deanery-level planning committees and an archdiocesan pastoral planning team, with Archbishop George J. Lucas finalizing the pastoral plans in November, Deacon Luna said. Implementation could begin by early 2018, he said.

Initial proposals for the two deaneries include having churches from the nine consolidated parishes become chapels – with one a mission church for Masses on Sundays and holy days and administering other sacraments. Churches that become chapels could be used for weddings, funerals, festivals and other events.

The proposals, which include some flexibility in deanery boundaries, also recommended that schools in several areas – such as Columbus; Lindsay, Humphrey and Madison; Clarkson, Howells and Dodge – consider working with the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office to form regional school systems or networks.

Father Kevin Vogel, pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Elgin and St. Bonaventure Parish in Raeville, said some people have taken aspects of the proposals hard, including the possible consolidation of St. Bonaventure Parish with St. Boniface and turning St. Bonaventure Church into a chapel.

"It’s a kind of grief," Father Vogel said. "It’s very personal, and there is a wide range of emotion, including sadness, anger and frustration."

If parish consolidations become part of the final plan, it will be important to accompany people in their grief, Father Vogel said.

"These parishes are where their children were baptized, where they were married, where they celebrated the funeral of a loved one," he said. "It’s where they meet God."

Deacon Luna said he understands the difficulty and emotions.

"We are being called to see the needs of the universal church and see and make the difficult decisions to be the church of today," Deacon Luna said. "That is the role I hope to play, to help us all work through the emotions and challenges to move through the change."

"I never, ever want to discount the ties a person has with the parish community and the church building," he said. "I fully respect and try to honor people’s feelings and emotions as we together work through the changes."

Father Swanton said people also have spoken to him about their grief as parish consolidations are considered. Other parishes, in turn, will be certain to welcome newcomers, he said. "They will help them feel they are part of the family," he said.

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