When Visitation Church ceases to be a Catholic parish in coming weeks, there's sure to be plenty of tears and sadness shared by members of the 66-year-old church. But there will be eating, music and dancing, too.

The southwest Minneapolis parish is set to merge with nearby Annunciation Church as part of the Twin Cities archdiocese's reorganization plan. Visitation leaders decided to make the solemn occasion a reunion of sorts as well.

Priests and other clergy who served at the church, along with students who attended Visitation's now-defunct elementary school, have been invited to join the parish for a farewell mass and celebration June 2 and a closing mass June 17. Church leaders have set up visifarewell.myevent.com to share the details.

"There was a fair amount of disbelief and hurt at first," said Kristine Kubes Callaghan, a Visitation parish trustee. "It was just like a very real grieving process. Then as a community we worked through our grieving."

Visitation is the latest church to face a merger amid the archdiocese's effort to respond to tighter budgets, shifting demographics and a projected shortage of priests. As part of the reorganization, 21 parishes are merging into 14 "receiving" parishes -- leaving a total of 191 parishes when it's all done by 2013.

Visitation will officially become part of Annunciation on June 30. Visitation's school closed in 2008 and its building is being leased to a charter school.

"While the school is in operation there will be one daily mass a week on Thursdays in the Visitation Church space," Callaghan said.

What will happen to the church if the charter school vacates remains an unknown. But Callaghan and church members remain hopeful about their future.

"We ... made a very conscious choice, as difficult as it was, we were going to accept the decision and move forward in thankfulness."

Rose French • 612-673-4352