Friday, April 27, 2007

Frustrated and sad, worshippers protest merger of N St Paul & Maplewood Parishes

In the immortal words of St Paul-Minneapolis' new Coadjutor Archbishop, John Nienstedt, "If you want more priests, Catholics, have more children!"

Through prayer, the Twin Cities archbishop has decided to merge a small Catholic church in Maplewood with a larger church in North St. Paul. Through frustration and desperation, members of the smaller church have started a counter-prayer in protest.

"The general feeling is, people are devastated," said Joan Gecik, parish administrator for Holy Redeemer in Maplewood. "We thought we had the perfect parish."

Holy Redeemer, home to 270 member families, could merge with St. Peter Church, with more than 1,800 families, as soon as August 2008. Both congregations would move together into a new church to be built on the present St. Peter grounds at 2590 N. Margaret St. in North St. Paul.

Rumored for months, the merger was confirmed to members of both churches in an April 18 letter from Harry Flynn, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, in which he said he reached this decision through "prayer and careful thought." Members of both churches have their first chance to question church officials about the merger in an informational meeting Saturday at Holy Redeemer.

Holy Redeemer members say they're motivated to preserve their culture and community.

"We welcome anybody to our church, but we're all very active members, and we like being small," said Mary Overton, a member since 1970. "They've been hinting at this (merger) for quite some time - they've been going about this kind of sneaky. It's very upsetting for all of us."

Caught in the middle is the Rev. Dan Griffith, pastor for both churches. [Father Griffith is scheduled as the featured speaker at St Augustine's next Argument of the Month Club session on May 8. Get your reseervations in early!] He went to Boston this week to meet with church officials who have led other congregations through mergers. He echoes sentiments Flynn laid out in his letter, acknowledging that the loss of church culture among Holy Redeemer members is "a legitimate concern."

Griffith stresses that this is a merger, not a closure, and that it is part of a national movement inside and outside the Catholic Church. Local leaders are taking steps to ensure Holy Redeemer members feel the new, blended church is theirs as much as it belongs to members of St. Peter. Those steps include forming a strategic planning committee with members of both churches, dissolving each church's financial and pastoral councils to create new bodies from the merged congregations and, in all likelihood, renaming the church. One potential name, Griffith said, is St. Peter of the Redeemer.

"It might not be as happy as two folks coming together in marriage, but we're going to try, very deliberately and thoughtfully, to bring the cultures of each into one," Griffith said. "From my standpoint, the people in the pews are our No. 1 constituency. I understand there's a lot of pain, and there's certainly a sense of loss and sacrifice, but we also let the Holy Spirit guide us and approach this as Christians and people of faith."

Some at Holy Redeemer suspect a less holy rationale for the merger - land value. Griffith deflected a question about whether the archdiocese wants to sell the land in Maplewood. Church leaders have considered a merger such as this, he said, for more than decade.

"It's about combining ministries, resources and talents to better serve parishioners," he said, noting that Holy Redeemer hasn't had a full-time pastor of its own for three years.

Holy Redeemer formed at the turn of the 20th century as an Italian national church in downtown St. Paul and moved to Maplewood in 1971. The Italian heritage has long been relegated to history, but it is still a destination church - a "church of choice," Overton said - rather than one based on geography. While half its members live in Maplewood, Holy Redeemer draws members from 27 ZIP codes. While following Roman Catholic doctrine, members tend to lean more away from tradition than do their counterparts at St. Peter, Griffith said.

[27 ZIP Codes? There are two types of Catholics who will drive a long way to get to Mass. One type is those seeking a Tridentine Mass or other conservative liturgy. "Lean away from tradition"? Is that another way to say "Peace and Justice Progressive?" That's the other type! ]

Holy Redeemer members aren't expecting to change the minds of church leaders at the Saturday meeting, but they also don't expect to sit as a silent audience.

"I hope they allow a free-for-all," Overson said. "Because what do we have to lose now?"

An informational meeting about the merger plan will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 2555 Hazelwood St., Maplewood. PioneerPress

Editorial comment that may or may not be relevant here: Maplewood (look at the map), whose only reason for existence is that they didn't want to be part of St Paul, is also the city in the Twin Cities area whose City Council deals with more controversy than any other in Minnesota. By far.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

I object! Somebody has to host the Maplewood Mall and the top end of the Bruce Vento trail!

The St. Paul City Council deals with controversy all the time too, somebody has to pass resolutions that have absolutely relevance to a city government.

Let's talk about North St. Paul, what do they have besides the giant snowman? Oh, and a nice DQ for me to almost get killed crossing to from the Gateway Trail.

Lovely cities both. Really.

Anyway, I agree that the number of zip codes looks "suspicious". I don't know this particular priest but if he's at the Argument of the Month club he must be pretty learned, if not fairly orthodox, right? I"m sure you will be there and give us a full report as entrance to said event is denied me because I'm the wrong gender. Hey, lets talk about gender oppression! ;-)

Yes, it's been a LONG week. You know I don't mean 1/2 of what I say. It's to you to figure out which half I do mean!

Why aren't enough Catholics in Maplewood itself going to Mass there? That's the real question. Are there NO Catholics in Maplewood?

Lots of stories the last couple of days with defiant Catholics. The Bishop is coming boo-hoo I'm not doing anything he says, the Archbishop decided to combine our parishes, I'm going to make a big scene...I see how obedience is lost virtue. If you can't be obedient to God's representatives on Earth, how can you be obedient to God?

Unknown said...

That danged Chrism! I wonder if it has an expiration date?

a. Maplewood can have the northern tier, but not the long skinny north-south tier. But unfortunately, the long skinny n-s tier contains 3M, so I suspect there would be a battle if it were proposed that they be split.

b. I think that is a problem in all large cities. They’re not able to deal with their urban problems, so they concentrate on cosmic problems.

c. My standard for a city is “would it exist if there were no growth after WWII of the suburbs?” In the case of NSP, yes, it probably existed in the 19th century. Maplewood is the figment of some developer’s (or 3M lawyer’s) imagination.

d. I think St Peter’s in NSP is pretty good. Probably on the “Charismatic” side. You can be sure that Father Echert wouldn’t allow any dissident priest a pulpit in HIS basement!

e. I think there are other parishes in Maplewood, too. Presentation of the B.V.M. and St Jerome are in Maplewood and in nearby Oakdale, Transfiguration. And probably some East Side St Paul parishes are close.

Unknown said...

Just for the record:

The reason that there are so many parishes in St Paul, Minneapolis and nearby suburbs is interesting. This is gossip from "behind a fern."

When WWII was over, large numbers of priests who had been military chaplains came back to their home dioceses where under normal circumstances they would have been parceled out to the existing parishes as assistants.

But these men were very skilled, having exercised a great deal of authority in the military. They would be very frustrated as "assistant pastors."

Prosperity was also just around the corner, so the Archbishop at the time, John Murray (1931-1956), created a large number of new parishes in the archdiocese so these men could immediately begin to serve as pastors.

Now, many of those parishes are decreasing in size and are no longer necessary. Just a few years ago, St Therese and St Gregory in Highland Park were closed, with a lot of quiet controversy, and merged into St Leo's, under the new parish name, Lumen Christi.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Danged chrism?! Who are you talking about, Ray? :-) Expiration date? You said over at my blog that I reek! Use your nose!

See, I told y'all that Ray uses a fern as a disguise. Now, you have read the evidence for yourselves by his own hand.

We can also see how Ray would gerrymander if he were permitted to do so.

Right now, Ray is really happy that Adoro is not over here to pick on him too. He's laughing and sighing with relief. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

I realy think you should be more optimistic about our new Bishop, unless you were joking. He waited a year in New Ulm to make changes. I read almost all of his posted writings at His current Diocese's website. He is a shepard who is unafraid to lead. He knows and confronts the current problems in the Church! We should all be rejoicing! It's just my opinion but not since our Pope's election have I felt so much hope

Unknown said...


Cathy (who blogs at Recovering Dissident Catholic) and I are blogging pals from the Twin Cities and we were just having a little fun on my comments after a week of heavy blogging what with the death and funeral of Msgr Schuler and the appointment of the Coadjutor Archbishop.

Just to make it clear, we both are thrilled with the appointment of Bishop Nienstedt and will support him according to his timetable.

And we pray that it will be a short one. Being that he spent his early years as a priest of the Detroit Archdiocese, I expect that his learning curve will be short.