Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2 Catholic parishes hope to save their congregations

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St. Canice in Kilkenny and St. Austin in north Minneapolis will appeal the archdiocese decision to close and consolidate their churches.

At least two of the 21 Catholic parishes facing mergers and church closures will appeal their fate.

Parishes affected by the sweeping reorganization of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have until Wednesday to appeal to Archbishop John Nienstedt.

Archdiocesan officials say they don't yet have a total of how many will try to fight the plan because they're still processing the appeals.

Under the reorganization plan, the 21 parishes will close their buildings and be merged into 14 receiving parishes. At the end of the process, the archdiocese will have a total of 192 parishes instead of the current 213. In addition, 33 parishes will join in new "clusters," in which one pastor will lead two or more parishes.

The reorganization, the largest in the archdiocese's history, is a response to tighter budgets, shifting demographics and a projected shortage of priests. The archdiocese counts close to 800,000 members, the largest religious denomination in the Twin Cities.

One of the churches appealing is St. Canice in Kilkenny, a congregation of about 400 members 65 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The nearly 152-year-old parish is set to merge with Holy Redeemer Church in Montgomery.

"It doesn't make any sense," said St. Canice trustee Gene Mach, who is helping spearhead the appeal. "We have no debt, and we do have money in reserve. Our membership has increased over the last year. Everything to this point has been on the upswing."

Mach said petitions were placed at every entrance of the church last weekend, and a majority of parishioners wanted to appeal the merger. He said many also wrote letters with "their own personal thoughts" which will be delivered to the archdiocese.

"The trouble is we may be considered small by Twin Cities standards, but out here, we're not really," Mach said.

The Rev. George Kallumkalkudy, pastor at St. Austin in north Minneapolis, said church leaders there also plan to appeal its merger with St. Bridget. He said St. Austin's 600 or so parishioners would prefer a "cluster" situation -- sharing one priest -- instead of merging the churches.

"They don't want to see the church close," Kallumkalkudy said. "They don't mind sharing a pastor, but they want to keep church buildings open and church activities going."

Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath has said a "very small number" of churches slated to merge intend to appeal the plan. He didn't have specific figures on Tuesday afternoon.

Catholic canon law provides a means for churches to appeal the archdiocese reorganization plan. An appeal must include a petition to the archbishop outlining why the decision should be changed. It can take weeks, if not months, for churches to get an answer. The reorganization itself is expected to take several years.

The Twin Cities archdiocese has steadily grown in the past decade, an increase fueled by immigration and growth in some suburban areas. But diocesan officials say a disproportionate number of parishes are in areas where the population is no longer able to sustain them. Maintaining too many aging buildings is a financial burden the archdiocese is trying to address. The archdiocese also expects to have 19 fewer priests eligible to serve as pastors in 2020. Of the 302 priests in the archdiocese, 182 are eligible to be pastors. Star Tribune

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