A little background: Right now, this diocese has about 70 priests. In a few years, if all of those who may retire do so - we'll be down to about 50. That would be a huge adjustment.
There are plenty of young priests in some places - but not in this diocese.
I won't copy the whole letter - the thing runs to two printed pages. The bottom line is this: between diocesan guidelines about scheduling Masses, the size of the parishes, and how big the churches are, we almost have to maintain the status quo here.
"Almost" is a key word.
We're asking for a continuation of the arrangement we've got - but the odds don't look good for our getting what we asked for. As I've said before, "The Catholic Church isn't a Democracy" (February 19, 2009). We'll just have to wait and see what headquarters has to say.
I'm picking and choosing which of the eight factors discussed in the letter I copy here. Remember: I'm biased. I like it here in Sauk Centre, think this is a fine place to live, and would like to have room to sit down during Mass.
(2) The Diocesan recommendation that a priest should not celebrate more than three Sunday Masses on a weekend has been established for the health of our priests. Given the size of our churches, and realizing not all members of our parish communities attend the Sunday celebration of the Holy Eucharist, no single church building can accommodate the faithful who attend regularly if only one priest was present to celebrate three Masses. We hope that our increased efforts at evangelization will welcome others to return to a more ardent practice of keeping holy the Lord's Day.There's a little more to the Holy Family School situation. We recently learned that the place needs major maintenance. (More the Holy Family School, Sauk Centre, website)
3. With the health of our Catholic schools now at a more vulnerable stage than any other time in recent years, we are concerned about one of the major missions of our parishes, which is the education of children. Holy Family School is one of the largest Catholic schools in the Saint Cloud Diocese. The suggestion of closing, combining or building a new church at this time when our own Catholic school is vulnerable may cause discouragement and hinder financial support from the parishes. It is commonly felt that our community cannot maintain the funding level to Holy Family School and at the same time build a new church. All three parishes contribute generously to support the school. Our parishioners still see Catholic education as a primary mission of our communities.
We're not talking about new pencil sharpeners here: the boiler needs attention; so does the lighting system; brickwork need attention; and that's not the whole list. The fundraising ("capital campaign" is what it's called) is for "safety and improvement needs of the school." With the exposed brickwork, electrical systems, and an old boiler we've got - yeah, I think "safety" is an appropriate term.
Off my soapbox, back to the letter:
(4) We suggest the status quo as the best response since the viability of surrounding parishes appear uncertain. What is to happen with the parishes in Villard, Elrosa, Meire Grove, and Greenwald? Changes in these parishes would have som impact on our communities.... Sauk Centre although a small town has four major highways intersecting the city, it has a hospital, nursing home, assisted living quarters and public school. The City of Sauk Centre has an attractive and hopeful future. Our three parishes are good communities that we hope can become more ardent in the practice of the faith. As small farms disappear, smaller communities offering fewer services may also see fewer and fewer parishioners in attendance in their parishes. Closure of nearby parishes will have an emotional impact on our own communities because of close family bonds. We are concerned that too much change at a rapid pace might sow deep seeds of discontent. It has been nearly then years since the closure of the Saint Anthony of Padua Parish and still some former members are just now officially joining parishes in the area.There's more. For example, the letter points out that the St. Alexius parish was twinned with Villard - and then twinned again with Our Lady of the Angels Church. St. Alexius now does not have a resident pastor - but they'd really like to keep their parish open. I see their point. St. Alexius is in West Union, the next town down the road toward Alexandria. West Union is not a very large town - and if I lived there, I'd be concerned about being lost in the crowd, if they merged with the larger Sauk Centre community.
(5) Although we believe that the Church is more than buildings, buildings are important because of the sacred events and precious moments that have taken place in these buildings and in our own personal lives and those of our ancestors. To build a new church would be a difficult project to advance at this time when all three churches are sound and beautiful structures with a legacy of faith that has been witnessed in these buildings. Although such a move may be needed in the future, at this time it may harm the faith.
Whatever the bishop decides, we'll work with it. There are generous families and individuals around here - and even those who can't give the big bucks have a habit of contributing what we've got. (February 22, 2010) Still, we've got our limits. I'm not sure what sort of structure we could build, that's big enough to hold all of us.
Our Lady of the Angels church, this morning. May 9, 2010.
1 It was distributed with the bulletins, so I figure it's 'public.' But, I've been wrong before.