Two of the 18 Catholic parishes appealing their mergers with other parishes were granted some changes, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis officials announced Friday. The other 16 mergers will proceed as planned.
The announcement paves the way for the largest reorganization in the archdiocese's nearly 160-year history, barring any successful appeals to the Vatican.
The two parishes that appealed successfully will still merge, but in a more palatable way.
St. Thomas Church in the south metro community of St. Thomas was initially set to merge with St. Wenceslaus in New Prague as part of the reorganization plan. The archdiocese granted its request to merge with St. Anne of Le Sueur instead.
At Holy Cross in northeast Minneapolis, Archbishop John Nienstedt confirmed the initial decision, with significant differences. Holy Cross will merge with St. Anthony of Padua, St. Clement and St. Hedwig. But the name of the combined parish community will be Holy Cross, and the merger will take place after the retirement of the Rev. Earl Simonson as pastor of St. Clement, which will happen by July 1, 2013.
Considering another appeal
Nienstedt's decision to affirm the 16 other mergers was greeted with dismay.
"We're disappointed," said Gene Mach, a church trustee with St. Canice in Kilkenny, which is set to merge with Most Holy Redeemer in Montgomery. Mach said St. Canice preferred to remain in a "cluster" with Most Holy Redeemer, which means the two parishes share a priest.
"We're still talking about preparing something to appeal it further," Mach said. "We just have to exercise our options. We probably won't make a decision until at least after the weekend masses so everyone is notified. I was hopeful we could have remained in a cluster instead of merging. We still would have had our own identity, our own parish."
The Rev. Kevin Clinton, pastor at St. Thomas church and other nearby parishes, applauded the archbishop for allowing St. Thomas to merge with St. Anne of LeSueur instead of St. Wenceslaus in New Prague. He said St. Anne is geographically closer to St. Thomas and "socially [St. Thomas parishioners] are more tied to LeSueur than New Prague. They shop in LeSueur, and they have more friends and connections to that community."
Stay strong, archbishop asks
As in other metro areas across the country, the Twin Cities archdiocese is facing a projected priest shortage, tighter budgets and shifting demographics. The reorganization plan was released last month, after more than a year of study. In addition to the mergers, 33 parishes will join new cluster configurations in which one pastor will lead two or more parishes. Nearly 25 percent of the archdiocese's current 213 parishes already share a pastor.
With the revisions announced Friday, 21 parishes are now scheduled to merge into 15 receiving parishes. After the mergers are implemented, there will be a total of 192 parishes. Archdiocesan officials say structural changes won't begin before January and will take place over several years.
"Despite the challenges involved, especially for those affected by the mergers proposed, I ask our Catholic faithful to remain strong in the practice of their faith and equally strong in their resolve to continue building the new parish communities that will begin to unfold," Nienstedt said in a released statement.
Parishioners affected by the Holy Cross and St. Thomas changes have until Nov. 29 to file a written appeal to the archbishop. Parishioners affected by the mergers confirmed by the archbishop may appeal to the Vatican.
Just how many church buildings may close as a result of the mergers remains unclear. Archdiocese officials say those decisions will be made by local leaders in consultation with the archbishop and a representative body of priests.
Even though St. Thomas' appeal succeeded, there's still pain involved in giving up a parish built in the 1880s.
"People at St. Thomas are generally understanding of what's happened," Clinton said. "But there are some very strong feelings here. They're having to say goodbye to something that's been in their own personal lives and in the lives of their parents and grandparents. We're talking about feelings connected to three generations of people."
Rose French • 612-673-4352