The decision regarding how many priests should serve area parishes came one step closer to the end Tuesday night.
The Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls — which covers the eastern half of South Dakota — is facing a shortage of priests in the next decade, which puts some area parishes at risk of closing. A 10-member study group that has been looking for alternatives; the group settled on its three main options Tuesday night at a meeting at St. Leo Catholic Church in Tyndall.
“We’re going from six priests to four priests in this area some time in the future,” said Deacon John Devlin, who represented the diocese at the meeting. “It depends on some decisions by the bishop, and it depends on retirements and things like that — but the reality is, it’s going to happen.”
The first proposal calls for a priest from Dante to serve Tyndall and Springfield, with another priest serving Tabor, Scotland and Lesterville, and three priests serving Yankton, Mayfield and Sigel.
The second proposal calls for two priests in Yankton — one for St. Benedict and one for Sacred Heart — and two priests to serve a combination of Tabor, Tyndall, Springfield, Scotland, Lesterville, Sigel and Mayfield.
The third proposal calls for one priest to serve St. Benedict, two to serve at Sacred Heart (with one of them serving Scotland, Lesterville, Mayfield or Sigel) and one priest to serve Tyndall, Tabor, Springfield or Lesterville.
All three proposals specify that a parish in Idylwilde will be assigned to a group of churches in Lennox and Parker.
Ken Kocer of St. Wenceslaus in Tabor spoke in favor of the first proposal.
“I think it’s thinking out of the box, and it really serves the parishes in our area the best,” he said. “I think it’s the best way to serve our parishioners.”
Due to the number of parishes the priests would be serving under the proposals, Masses would have to be held on an alternating basis between communities.
This was not looked at favorably by some of the group members.
“I personally don’t like the idea of alternating Masses,” said Martin Sieverding of St. George in Scotland. “Would I want to go to Mass in Scotland one Sunday, and then have to go someplace else the next Sunday? After a period of time, how would I end up? Would I keep doing that, or would I go someplace else (to attend Mass)? And I’ve come to the conclusion I would go someplace else.”
Bernie Hunhoff of St. Agnes in Sigel said, “I think the saddest thing about this whole series of meetings ... is the way it’s kind of come down to what’s more important: the parish versus priests. And that’s a sad situation.”
The three proposals will be sent to Bishop Paul Swain of the Sioux Falls Diocese to be considered in his final decision.
A final meeting of the study group will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 18 at St. John the Baptist Church in Lesterville. Yankton Press & Dakotan