Three parish groups that were identified for clustering to potential merger or merging in the October 2010 archdiocesan strategic plan announced in their bulletins and from the pulpit during Masses June 16-17 that they are moving forward to become merged parishes.
Those are: St. Mary of the Purification in Marystown with St. Mary and St. Mark in Shakopee; St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph in Hopkins; and Holy Cross, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Clement and St. Hedwig in northeast Minneapolis.
Father Glen Jenson, pastor of three of the four involved northeast Minneapolis parishes, announced that all canonical measures of appeals have been exhausted, so the parishes will begin working toward a formal merger on July 1, 2013, as announced in the strategic plan.
Father Peter Wittman, pastor of the Shakopee parishes, and Father James Liekhus, pastor of the Hopkins parishes, both asked Archbishop John Nienstedt to move their respective parishes from the status of cluster to potential merger to merger.
Father Liekhus said that, for the person in the pew in Hopkins, there won’t be much change once the merger officially takes place on Jan. 1, 2013.
“We’ve already done the hard things of consolidating everything, our ministries and our staff,” he said. “The biggest change is we are requesting a new name.”
He added that the St. John’s and St. Joseph’s campuses would remain open.
“You hear about horror stories of how difficult it can be to bring churches together, but St. John’s and St. Joseph’s have a history of working together,” he said. “We shared John Ireland School for a long time and even Hopkins Consolidated School for decades.”
During the past year, after Father Liekhus was named pastor of both parishes, the pastoral councils have been meeting together, the Mass schedules were combined so they didn’t overlap and St. Joseph’s religious education director was hired full time for both faith formation programs when St. John’s DRE retired.
“We said, if it’s going to happen, let’s do it. Why wait forever,” Father Liekhus said. “This is a natural fit for St. John and St. Joseph to come together.”
Decades of working together
Father Wittman said the Shakopee parishes have been talking about merging for quite a while, so it’s no surprise.
“The parish council has been meeting together for a half a year and so had the finance councils,” he said.
Father Wittman also emphasized that all the church buildings will continue to remain open and be used for Masses.
Deacon Bill Heiman said the three parishes have been collaborating for more than 40 years.
“The impetus was our Shakopee Area Catholic School,” he said, noting that:
- In 1971, the parishes started the school collaboration and a cemeteries collaboration.
- In 1981, they began a faith formation collaboration.
- In 1985, they began collaborative perpetual adoration.
- In 2003, they opened a newly built school.
- In 2007-2008, they did a tri-parish study.
The six trustees, representing each of the three parishes, began meeting to discuss a potential merger.
“Under Father Wittman’s leadership, they looked at the question that came back to them: ‘With more than 40 years of collaboration, what more could they do?’ They arrived at the answer that a formalized merger was in everyone’s best interest — to look at combining resources to provide better ministries for the Shakopee Catholic community,” Deacon Heiman said.
The discussion went from the trustees to the parish councils and finance councils, with all agreeing to recommend a formal merger, which is scheduled to become official on Aug. 1. The archbishop and the presbyteral council, a representative body of priests, were consulted in the process.
Although the parishes have called themselves the Shakopee Catholic Community for some time, they will request a new official name from the archbishop for the merged parish community.
Father Wittman has informally submitted three names, which were brought forth from the parish leadership groups, to Archbishop Nienstedt, who will choose from among those or offer another parish name after the merger takes effect. He also will choose a name for the Hopkins parish community.
Father Jenson had a busy weekend, popping in and out of 13 liturgies in northeast Minneapolis, where he will be overseeing the merger, which will become official July 1, 2013.
“We’re looking at opportunities for different groups . . . to plan and meet each other and get to know each other . . . to make it easier to work together and to want to do more together,” he said. “Now that we can focus our energies on what lies ahead, it should be a good — though challenging — time.”
One priority the merged parish will have is to determine what ministries are needed now and in the future.
“We are working on a ministry plan and have retained a ministry consultant to look at what we have and where we have obvious gaps,” he said. “That will provide a road map on where we want to focus our energies first.”
But first the parishioners will be “heavily invested” in the process of entering into the merger and preparing to set it up well, he said.
In addition, three mergers announced in the 2010 strategic plan will become effective on July 1, 2012:
- Annunciation and Visitation, both in Minneapolis;
- Most Holy Redeemer in Montgomery and St. Canice in Kilkenny; and
- St. Genevieve in Centerville and St. John the Baptist in Hugo.
The archdiocese will have a total of 188 parishes in July 2013, compared to 213 parishes in October 2010.
A merger decision does not necessarily mean that a merging parish’s church building will close. Decisions about the church buildings of the newly combined parish community are made by local leaders in proper consultation with the archbishop and the presbyteral council.