Father Kevin Clinton, pastor of St. Wenceslaus in New Prague, said he is feeling a bit less pressure since Archbishop John Nienstedt modified the merger plan among six parishes in the area.
The new decree for the New Prague area merger removed St. Thomas in St. Thomas from merging with St. Wenceslaus in New Prague and merges it instead with St. Anne in LeSueur as the receiving parish.
The rest of the merger remains the same, with St. Benedict, St. John the Evangelist, St. Joseph and St. Scholastica merging into St. Wenceslaus on Jan. 1. The St. John, St. Scholastica and St. Wenceslaus buildings will remain open.
The changes affecting the New Prague area merger are one of two mergers modified by Archbishop Nienstedt in response to information received from parishioners in petitions to reconsider merger decisions announced last October by the archdiocese.
The other modification involved a merger of parishes in northeast Minneapolis. The original decisions in the remaining 12 mergers were confirmed.
Decisions still to be made
In the New Prague area, “It’s a win-win situation,” Father Clinton said. The parishioners at St. Thomas are not only geographically closer to LeSueur, but they also have closer relationships to the parishioners at St. Anne, he said.
It also decreases — from six to five — the number of parishes for which the pastor is now responsible to blend into one parish that worships at three sites.
One of the greatest challenges will be where and what time to celebrate six Masses at three sites, after the last Mass is celebrated at St. Benedict, he said. Mass has not been celebrated at St. Joseph for the past two years.
Many decisions are yet to be made by the transitional leadership coordination committee, made up of two representatives from each of the five parishes, along with Father Clinton, Deacon Bob Wagner and Father Dave Barrett, the regional associate pastor.
“The facts are that even with two priests serving five sites, the five sites were not sustainable,” he said. One of the sites had 14 households. Another site had just 50 to 75 people attending the one weekend Mass offered.
“People are grieving,” Father Clinton said. It is like a death within the faith community.
However, he said, the creation of the new parish won’t change much in the way people worship. That is just a “legal modification,” he said. What is more important is the relationship of the people, who have the power to create something new and life-giving for the future.
Father Clinton said he is getting a lot of support and advice from the archdiocese and meetings with other pastors of merging parishes.
“Archbishop Nienstedt spent a few years in the New Ulm diocese where he learned a lot about rural faith communities,” he said. “So, that is to our advantage. He is not unfamiliar with the dynamics that do evolve and can evolve.”
The pastor also is grateful that there are no staff reductions with the merger, since the parishes outside of New Prague did not have any staff besides the priest and volunteers.
Throughout the merger process, Father Clinton is keeping people updated through the parish bulletins, announcements from the pulpit and through lay leaders reporting to the entire parish community.
“As much as we can, we are trying to take the best from each community and bring it into the new environment,” he said.
Changes in Minneapolis
In another merger in Minneapolis, Archbishop Nienstedt confirmed his original decision, with some modifications, to merge Holy Cross, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Clement and St. Hedwig.
Modifications include that the combined parish community will be named Holy Cross, and the effective date of the merger will take place upon the retirement of Father Earl Simonson as pastor of St. Clement, which will take place by July 1, 2013.
The archbishop also reaffirmed the Polish nature of the combined parish community, including the continued offering of Mass in Polish, and he stated that Mass will continue to be offered onsite to residents of Catholic Eldercare facilities adjacent to the church buildings of St. Anthony of Padua and St. Hedwig.
Father Glen Jenson, Holy Cross pastor, was unable to comment on the changes in the merger before this issue of The Catholic Spirit went to press.
Parishioners involved in the two revised mergers — in the New Prague area and northeast Minneapolis — have until Nov. 29 to appeal the changes to Archbishop Nienstedt.
Parishioners in parishes where the mergers remain unchanged have until Dec. 3 to appeal the archbishop’s decision to the Vatican if they choose to do so.
Archdiocesan staff members are working with pastors, lay leaders and parishioners at affected parishes during this time of transition, according to a news release from the archdiocese. Pending appeals, the first round of mergers go into effect on Jan. 1. Changes will roll out over the following months and years; they will not all happen at the same time.
According to the archdiocese, 21 parishes are scheduled to merge into 15 receiving parishes, which will lead to a reduction in the number of parishes from 213 to 192. Catholic Spirit