Mass Matters

| January 13, 2010

Parish planning seeks to ensure sacraments, but changes are inevitable

The Northeast Minneapolis area covers just about eight square miles of the city, but it includes nine Roman Catholic parishes and three Eastern-rite Catholic parishes.

Initially settled by immigrant Italians, Poles, French, Germans, Ukrainians, Russians and Slovaks, the community’s Catholic population has declined during the last few decades.

Many people have moved to the suburbs. Century-old church buildings are requiring structural maintenance and preservation. New immigrants are arriving from Central and South America and even Somalia.

Today, the Northeast parishes have a combined registered 2,307 households — the size of some individual suburban parishes. Despite the small population, 32 Masses are celebrated every weekend within the neighborhood’s parishes. Five Sunday Masses are celebrated at 9 a.m. alone.

Ray Mlinar, 66, expects that to change. As parish administrator of the Northeast Minneapolis parish All Saints, he’s been a leader in helping coordinate collaboration around Northeast parish events. The archdiocesan planning process is leading the parishes toward even more collaboration, he said.

Although Mlinar expects the planning process to result in fewer Mass times for the parishes, he trusts that Masses will still be available within the neighborhood.

He’s worked with Deanery 13, which includes Northeast Minneapolis, to make recommendations to the planning task force appointed by Archbishop John Nienstedt.

“Part of [the deanery’s] plan is to cut back the number of Masses, and . . . to change the times, so that people will have more of a choice, rather than having two parishes that are three blocks away from each other having Mass at the same time,” Mlinar said.

Sacramental availability

When Archbishop Nienstedt launched the archdiocesan planning process last February, he outlined seven principles that were to guide members of the Strategic Planning Task Force as they prepared a proposal for him. The first of these principles states that “full sacramental ministry must be available to every Catholic in each geographical area of the archdiocese.”

This principle is essential to the process because the Catholic Church is a sacramental church, said Father John Bauer, rector of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

“Sacraments are at the core of our life as individuals and the life of the church,” he said.

Father Bauer is co-chair of the Strategic Planning Task Force with Father Peter Laird, archdiocesan vicar general. Fourteen other individuals from varied backgrounds also sit on the task force.

Under the new Plan for Parishes that will be created through the planning process, sacraments will be available; how ever, for some parishes, they may not be available as they were in the past, Father Bauer said.

For example, more parishes may begin to share a pastor with another nearby, he said.

“People may have to drive an extra mile or two, or a couple extra blocks, to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation or to go to an early morning Mass, or to go to Saturday evening Mass,” he said.

Long-held Mass and reconciliation schedules may change; engaged couples may need to secure a wedding date further in advance; parishes may need to work together on sacramental preparation for children and adults.

Changes for priests, laity

Michaela Bisanz, 49, knows changes in Mass schedules can be difficult for parishioners. Recently, Lumen Christi in St. Paul went from three Sunday Masses to two, and it shifted the remaining times to new hours.

It also dropped one of its two daily Masses.

“It was hard,” she said. “We heard a lot of really upset people. . . . It feels like a huge loss to them.”

By eliminating Mass times, a parish saves heating and lighting costs, said  Bisanz, Lumen Christi’s parish office manager. It was also difficult for the parish always to have a priest available.

Despite their initial reaction, parishioners are beginning to adjust to the new Mass schedule, she said.

Bisanz attended St. Leo, and later, St. Therese, before the two St. Paul parishes merged with nearby St. Gregory to form Highland Catholic Community in 1994.

Between 1999 and 2005, the three parishes transitioned into one: Lumen Christi.

Mass schedules were adjusted throughout the process to accommodate the pastor and assisting priests. Father Bauer was pastor of Lumen Christi during the transition.

Throughout the Highland Catholic Community’s planning process, parishioners were encouraged to attend Mass at all three participating parishes in order to understand each parish’s liturgy style and tradition, Bisanz said.

Today, the archdiocesan task force is relying on the information provided by area Catholics throughout the archdiocesan planning process to aid its decisions regarding sacramental availability, Father Bauer noted.

“It would be terribly burdensome to expect somebody living in a rural part of the [arch]diocese to drive to the Cities for Sunday Mass on a regular basis,” Father Bauer said.

“But,” he added, “if a priest is going to travel between two parishes to say Mass, and he has to travel five miles, I don’t think it’s burdensome to ask and expect parishioners to do that as well.”

Areas of specialized ministries, such as those serving Latino and non-English-speaking Catholics, also need to be included when it comes to sacraments, said Father Tom Walker, executive director of the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council. The archbishop consults with the council on the governance of the archdiocese.

More than fewer priests

In 10 years, the number of priests eligible to be pastor in the archdiocese is expected to drop from 182 to 163, according to the archdiocese’s “Key Facts about the Archdiocesan Planning Process.”

The number of parochial vicars and priests in special ministries is also expected to decline.

The archbishop and personnel board are finding it increasingly difficult to provide multiple priests in larger parishes traditionally home to both a pastor and an associate pastor, Father Walker said.

The associate pastor at St. Ambrose of Woodbury — where Father Walker is pastor — is leaving, and Father Walker doesn’t expect to  have a new associate pastor for several months at the 12,000-member parish.

Although the declining number of priests contributes to the need for a comprehensive plan for parishes and schools, it is unfair to attribute the expected changes solely to the decline in numbers of priests, Father Bauer said.

“We also have to look at financial realities, and we also have to look at being good stewards of the resources that God has given us — our buildings, our plants, our personnel, how we provide services and ministries to our people,” he said.

Seeing ‘in a new way’

The planning process “invites people to see things in a new way,” Father Bauer said.

He pointed to the core areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul as examples of places that can expect changes to their sacramental schedules, but it’s too early in the process to point to specific parishes, he said.

“No decisions have been made,” Father Bauer said.

Father Walker is excited about the collaboration possibilities among local leadership and the ideas that can be shared, he said.

“The more we can get to know one another across parish lines, the more those possibilities can open up,” he added.

In Northeast Minneapolis, Mlinar was part of the parish-formed Northeast Regional Pastoral Council from the late-1990s until it waned a few years ago.

The grassroots group sought collaboration on parish services and an increase in parish vibrancy.

Today, he collects information for The Northeast Beacon, a quarterly newsletter serving the neighborhood parishes. It lists parish events like Masses, adoration times and bake sales.

Father Glen Jenson is pastor of the Northeast Minneapolis parishes of Holy Cross, St. Hedwig and St. Anthony of Padua.

He is assisted by a retired priest and a Polish-speaking priest who serves recent immigrants at Holy Cross. St. Hedwig and St. Anthony paired in 2004, and Holy Cross joined the configuration in 2008.

The parishes catechize their young people through the All Northeast Consolidation, a program serving all the Northeast parishes.

Although the celebrations of first reconciliation and first Communion take place within individual parishes, students receive their sacramental preparation through the Consolidation.

Father Jenson finds hope in the area’s demographic shifts, he said. He views the influx of new immigrants, artists and university students as an opportunity for evangelization.

“The church has to revision itself to minister to the people who are joining our community so the church has a vibrant future,” he said.

Archdiocesan deaneries are currently completing their final reports for the Strategic Planning Task Force; reports will be reviewed and considered as the task force prepares its recommendations for Archbishop Nienstedt.

Recommendations to the archbishop are expected to be made in July.

“[The planning process] is actually providing some exciting opportunities for the future, not simply to minister to the church as it always has been, but to stretch, grow,” Father Jenson said.

Planning principles

In his March 2009 column in The Catholic Spirit, Archbishop John Nienstedt emphasized that the planning process will ensure:

1 Full sacramental ministry.

2 Competent pastoral leaders.

3 Special concern for the needs of the poor, marginalized, and immigrant.

4 Catholic school support and inclusion in the planning process.

5 Every parish will be involved in this discussion.

6 Every parish will be expected to evaluate their own resources and adjust accordingly.

7 Respect, patience and honesty in all discussions to build on strengths.

What do you think?

There are several ways Catholics can share their ideas, hopes and concerns for the planning process with the Strategic Planning Task Force:

» Via the Web: http://www.archspm.org/planningprocess.

» By voice mail: (651) 291-4435.

» By postal mail: Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, PST — Planning Process Comments, 328 Kellogg Blvd. W, ST. Paul, MN 55102.

Read more about the planning process at http://www.archspm.org/planningprocess/resources.html.

Category: Archdiocese Planning Process

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