The shortage of priests is driving a planned restructuring of the Sioux City Diocese, impacting churches in Le Mars and the surrounding area.
Bishop R. Walker Nickless issued a five- and 10-year plan for the diocese outlining which churches will have weekend and weekday masses.According to the plan, the northwest region of the diocese will go from having 13 priests to nine.
"Right now there are 83 active priests in the diocese," the Rev. Kevin Richter said. "Within 10 years it could be well under 50."
Of the six churches in the Le Mars area cluster, Nickless did not suggest closing any.
He did indicate that weekend mass at St. Joseph Church of Neptune could end within five years. The church building would still be used for optional weekday mass and other functions, like hosting the blessed sacrament for prayer and having sacraments like baptism.
In 10 years, Nickless projected in the plan, there will not be weekend mass at Neptune or at Our Lady of Assumption in Merrill.
St. Joseph in Le Mars would see no change in the next five years, but in 10 years, the priest there may also be serving St. Joseph at Struble and taking care of any events at Neptune's church, which would no longer be having weekend mass. Currently Richter serves St. Joseph in Le Mars.
The priest at St. James in Le Mars will be also serving Akron's St. Patrick Church within the next five years, according to plan. Currently the Rev. James Tigges serves St. James.
Richter said he at first thought Akron and Hawarden would have shared a priest, but learned that Hawarden would be grouped with Sioux Center and Rock Valley because of the hispanic ministry there.
St. James, in 10 years, will also share their priest with St. Joseph in Ellendale for Sunday masses. That priest will also take care of events at Merrill's church.
In the next five years, and possibly as soon as this spring, St. Catherine in Oyens will be paired with Remsen St. Mary under one priest, who will live in Remsen.
The only church in the northwest region of the diocese that will be closed entirely with the possibility of selling the land except the cemetery, is Sacred Heart in Alvord.
"Nickless really is being faithful to not closing a parish unless it is no longer viable," Richter said.
In the bishop's letter introducing the changes to parishes, he acknowledged the transition may be bumpy.
"Change is never easy and old patterns of behavior are difficult to let go of," Nickless wrote. "But I am sure that all of us together can make this new arrangement work by accepting our share of the burden."
Parishes will hold meetings so members can give their input on the changes as proposed.
The meeting at St. James, in Le Mars, will be 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 19. with a possible second meeting on Monday, Feb. 23.
The meeting at St. Joseph, in Le Mars, will be at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 24 in the church basement. LeMars Daily Sentinel