Bernard, 86, and Adeline, 88, Sobczak can look out the window of their home near New Prague and see the church of St. Benedict across the street. For more than four decades, they have walked out their front door and about 100 yards to the church doors for Sunday Mass. Jan. 16, they did it for the last time.
In the predawn darkness, they made their way through snow and cold for the final Mass at the church, which closed its doors shortly after the 7:30 a.m. liturgy ended. In fact, it was Adeline who tied a small purple ribbon on the doors, which made the closing official.
With a small crowd gathered around to watch, Adeline was joined by Bernard, a parish trustee along with Gilbert Schoenbauer, 73.
The mood was almost festive as parishioners engaged in lively conversation as they filed out of the church and gathered on the sidewalk.
Then, a hush fell over the crowd as Adeline pulled out the ribbon and slowly tied it to the door handles.
Afterward, she and the two trustees turned to face the crowd. There was a moment of awkward silence, then all three began to weep.
“Very sad,” said Schoenbauer, whose wife, Shirley, was the church organist. “I didn’t want to see it happen. But what can you do?
We’ve got to keep up with the times. We don’t have enough priests.
“It’s like you lost something. I don’t cry very often. I cried when my mom died, I cried when my dad died, and I cried today.”
Part of the plan
It was an exhausting weekend for Father David Barrett, who celebrated the final Mass and “taking leave ritual” at St. Thomas in St. Thomas at 5 p.m. Jan. 15.
Both St. Thomas and St. Benedict were to be part of the merger with St. Wenceslaus in New Prague, St. John the Evangelist in Union Hill, St. Scholastica in Heidelberg and St. Joseph in Lexington as part of the archdiocesan strategic plan, announced the weekend of Oct. 15-16. St. Thomas appealed and was allowed to merge with St. Anne in LeSueur because of the proximity to that church.
Diane Weckman and Jack Stasney, who served on the transition committee, talked about plans for St. Benedict.
During the week after the Mass, St. Benedict’s Stations of the Cross were to be installed at St. John, where they will be dedicated during the Jan. 23 Mass, and St. John will welcome St. Benedict parishioners with coffee and rolls.
The following week, the statue of St. Benedict is to be moved to St. Scholastica and that parish will host a dedication with coffee and rolls on Jan. 30.
“We should all be fat,” Weckman joked.
Stasney said that people will be OK with going to another building for Mass, but it’s the “fabric part of the community” that will be lost.
“Change is inevitable in our lives,” Stasney said. “Some people are having a hard time with it and they need their own time to go through a healing process and move on — and that is how it is with human beings.”
St. Benedict parishioners are still working on an itinerary of items that have been donated to the church in memory of a loved one.
Although those items can’t be given back to the donors, Weckman said they would make room for them in other churches, where they will continue to be used.
“All our cassocks are going to St. Scholastica because theirs are in need of replacement and ours are in good shape,” she said. And she plans to contact the Mankato Catholic community, which is building a new church, to see if St. Benedict has anything that could fill their needs.
“Father Elgar [Bockenfeld, OFM], for years, had been preparing us,” she said. “When he was alive, he said, ‘It’s coming, so just buck up and accept it.’”
Stasney noted that Father Bockenfeld had run three of the rural parishes as a cluster, sharing programs and sacraments over the past four years.
“We were already merging things, so some of the stuff is not going to be brand new,” he said.
Weckman added that she appreciates all the work done by Deacon Bob Wagner, Father Barrett and Father Kevin Clinton, St. Wenceslaus’ pastor.
“They’ve been a lifesaver for me.”
Personally, Weckman is sad about not seeing the people at St. Benedict every Sunday, as each family chooses a church to meet their needs.
“I will have to get out there and make a phone call and stop in,” she said. “It’s our church family. I don’t see them all the time, but if I needed them, I know they’d be there.”
Weckman said there are positive aspects in the final collaboration between St. Wenceslaus and the other parishes involved in the merger.
“St. Wenceslaus has so much to offer with adult studies,” she said. Although St. Benedict and St. John had a thriving religious education program with 125 children involved, there was no Sunday school, Bible study or options for post CCD kids and that has her excited about the changes.
“It opens up more opportunities for us to grow in our faith,” she said.
Two additional mergers set forth in the archdiocesan strategic plan became official with the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011.
St. Francis de Sales and St. James in St. Paul officially merged Dec. 31, said Greg Vasterling, parish business administrator.
“Legally, yes, it’s done. But it’s business as usual to a certain extent, until we review all the different pieces of our campus and what that might mean,” he said.
The two parishes have been collaborating over the last four years, sharing a pastor, school, finance council, parish council and more.
“Under the archdiocese format, the next thing that happens is that a leadership committee is formed to review the campuses,” Vasterling said.
The first thing the parish will need to address is the urgent review of the school, he said. For now, Mass times will continue as they have been at both churches, he added.
Also merged as of Dec. 31 are: St. Andrew with Maternity of the Blessed Virgin in St. Paul.