Roman Catholics in the Twin Cities face the most sweeping changes in their church since World War II as Archbishop John Nienstedt releases plans this weekend to reorganize the 800,000-member, 213-parish Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The restructuring, which will include closing some churches and merging parishes, was brought on by tighter budgets, shifting demographics and a forecast of fewer priests, the archdiocese said.
Officials urged parishioners to remain calm in the face of what likely will be startling changes.
"We recommend they be patient, learn what the decisions actually mean, so they can understand it and participate in the processes that follow these announcements," said Jim Lundholm-Eades, one of 16 on the Strategic Planning Task Force that has worked on the plans for 20 months. "There's going to be plenty of time for people to think about it."
Plans call for mergers, clustering multiple parishes under a single pastor and sharing resources between congregations. Changes will begin in 2011 and continue for several years, Lundholm-Eades said.
Details on changes at more than 100 area Catholic schools will not be announced for some time, the archdiocese said, but review begins in the coming week.
Pastors will learn details of the restructuring today and share the information with their parish leaders tonight.
Copies of the plan will be delivered to each church today; details are embargoed until the copies are distributed to parishioners after Mass on Saturday and Sunday.
Here's a look at the factors that brought about the planned changes.
Finances: About 25 percent of the archdiocese's parishes are being monitored for financial health, said Dennis McGrath, archdiocese spokesman.
He said the restructuring wouldn't wipe out debt held by parishes but "will help us to live within our means."
In addition, investment losses from 2008 to 2009 cost the archdiocese about $500,000 in revenue, according to its last annual report.
Lundholm-Eades said assets from a merged church will follow the worshippers, but so will liabilities. He said part of the restructuring would involve the archdiocese helping parishes sort through their finances.
Demographics: Church growth has shifted from Twin Cities urban centers to the suburbs, he said.
Recent growth has hovered about 7 percent annually across the 12-county metro area, with the greatest increase coming along the Interstate 94 corridor to the northwest, and near Lakeville and around Forest Lake.
"Where the suburbs are growing, the church is growing," said Lundholm-Eades.
Growth is especially marked among Latinos, he said, with more than 16,500 Hispanic worshippers attending 23 Spanish-language Masses each week. Mass is celebrated in nine languages across the archdiocese.
Pastor shortage: While the number of worshippers is expected to grow, the number of pastors likely will drop.
Only 182 of the archdiocese's 302 active priests are eligible to lead a parish. Of the 302, 19 fewer will be available in the next decade, the archdiocese said. This will lead to "clustering" of church communities, where one priest leads worship at multiple sites.
About a quarter of the churches in the archdiocese already share pastors.
Mergers: The most dramatic change expected will be the closing of church buildings when one community merges with another, Lundholm-Eades said.
He pointed to the Lumen Christi Catholic Community in St. Paul's Highland Park as an example of a merger done well.
The 3,100-member church formed in early 2006 after the congregations of St. Gregory and St. Therese were folded into the church of St. Leo.
At St. Matthew's on St. Paul's West Side, the Rev. Steve Adrian said he knows parishioners will be anxious to hear the plans; he will address the archbishop's decisions during weekend services.
Faith and spirituality aside, he said he realizes the restructuring "is a hard-nosed business decision."
"For 70 to 80 years, there's been no major restructuring of the Catholic community in the metro area," he said. "We're doing exactly what 3M would be doing, the St. Paul school board would be doing."
He said his parish members have had mixed reactions to the coming announcement — from anxiety to excitement at the unknown — but that the mission of the church is bigger than any one parish.
"If you are committed to a mission, then that's what drives you," said Adrian, 68. "I have no time to wring my hands about the past. I still have energy for tomorrow."
Appeals: As parishioners leave Mass this weekend, they will be given copies of the archbishop's plans, which include instructions for appealing his decisions.
Lundholm-Eades said parishes will have 10 days to appeal to the archdiocese.
The church has tried to minimize shock about the changes through mailings, website updates and stories in the archdiocese newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, McGrath said.
Several smaller churches contacted by the Pioneer Press declined to comment on the planned announcement.
A couple of worshippers from the former Holy Redeemer in Maplewood — closed in 2008 when it merged with St. Peter in North St. Paul — said they did not want to talk about their experience, either.
"I'm sorry, but it's like pouring salt in the wound," one said.
Lundholm-Eades said the planning committee knows there will be hard feelings, but it's the cost of strengthening the overall church.
"People love their parish. It's where they grew up, have funerals, weddings, baptisms, all the important events in their lives," he said. "Building new communities takes time. It can take more than a generation. Some people will miss the old community for a long, long time."
The archdiocese's reorganization plan will be released at 4 p.m. Saturday at archspm.org and thecatholicspirit.com. Printed plans will be handed out after weekend Masses. The archdiocese website on the planning process is at planning.archspm.org.