After a year of tears and celebrations, planning and action, six parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will legally and canonically become three parishes on Sunday, Jan. 1.
As outlined in the strategic plan announced in October 2010, St. Austin parish in Minneapolis will merge into St. Bridget parish in Minneapolis; St. Vincent de Paul parish in St. Paul will merge into Cathedral of St. Paul parish; and Most Holy Trinity parish in St. Louis Park will merge into Our Lady of Grace parish in Edina.
Archbishop John Nienstedt will preside at two welcoming Masses at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Jan. 1 at the combined Our Lady of Grace parish in Edina. The archbishop also will dedicate the newly renamed Most Holy Trinity Chapel, which is OLG’s daily Mass and adoration chapel, said Father Robert Schwartz, OLG pastor.
Celebrating 68-plus years
Although the past 14 months have been challenging, Father Brian Fier, pastor of Most Holy Trinity, said his focus has been on helping his 300 families celebrate the parish’s 68-plus years of existence.
“Now we are focusing these last couple of weeks just enjoying these remaining days and our liturgies together,” Father Fier said. “Christmas this weekend and the next weekend, I expect a full house.”
He has asked parishioners to bring a plate of cookies and stay to share their stories after the last Saturday vigil Mass at 5 p.m. Dec. 31 in the building.
For now, all six church buildings will remain open.
If people keep attending the one remaining 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in St. Louis Park, Our Lady of Grace parish, which has 2,700 families, will continue to use the church [at least] until Palm Sunday, said Father Schwartz.
Members of the combined parish will also help to decide what to do with Most Holy Trinity’s statuary, stained-glass windows and other artifacts.
The altar and other treasures were photographed for a commemorative book that was given to every Most Holy Trinity parishioner, along with a professionally recorded CD of the parish’s music, Father Fier said.
Father Schwartz acknowledges that Most Holy Trinity parishioners may struggle, at first, to find the intimacy they have in their small community.
“I think that intimacy is here, too, but you can’t find it as easily because there are so many people,” he said. “The people here are very welcoming and anxious to have them come.”
Hmong church remains
Besides the intimacy of a small church, St. Vincent de Paul’s Hmong Catholic community might have lost the intimacy of its culture if it had to move its Masses to the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Because of its unique character, it is not moving its location, and it will not have a separate pastor, said Father Joseph Johnson, pastor of both parishes, although St. Vincent parish will be called Cathedral parish Jan. 1.
“There is no time to add another Mass at the Cathedral on Sunday and we can’t change one of our current Masses to be Hmong or bilingual,” Father Johnson said. “The challenge for us isn’t . . . one location is closing, but, how do we — with two separate locations — form one spiritual family.”
To help make that transition, several combined events have been planned: Dec. 30, Hmong parishioners will host a holy hour at the St. Vincent campus; Jan. 8, Cathedral parishioners will host an Epiphany party for children of both communities; Jan. 15, representatives of various groups at the Cathedral will make presentations at the St. Vincent campus to invite them to get involved; Jan. 29, Father Johnson will talk after Mass at the Cathedral about the history of the Hmong Catholic people.
Deacon Naokao Yang, who has served as deacon at St. Vincent de Paul since 2004, said the Hmong people are grateful for all the archdiocese has done to allow them to function as the Hmong Catholic Community.
“The Hmong don’t want to lose their identity and if they were at the Cathedral totally, their identity would be lost and people would not feel at home,” Deacon Yang said. “Throughout the world, St. Vincent has been known as the Hmong parish and that would be sad to see that go away.”
The 100-family parish is glad that it will continue to celebrate Sunday Mass and host activities at the St. Vincent building.
In fact, Father Johnson said St. Vincent is investing money from its savings to make building repairs.
New life in Minneapolis
In Minneapolis, Father George Kallumkalkudy, CMI, said the people at St. Austin have changed their attitudes about the merger decision.
“People thought by Jan. 31 this [church building] would be closed,” said Father Kallumkalkudy, St. Austin pastor. “Right now, they have been assured that this place is not going to be closed immediately.”
Saturday evening Mass will be celebrated in St. Austin Church and Sunday morning Mass will be celebrated at St. Bridget Church. Also, Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mass will be celebrated at St. Austin and the other weekdays at St. Bridget.
Although the parish will be known as St. Bridget, most of the grieving St. Austin parishioners who appealed the merger decision to the Vatican have taken a new turn. St. Austin’s appeal was officially turned down by the Vatican in October.
During a fruitful all-parish meeting with archdiocesan representatives at St. Bridget Dec. 12, the people were able to get answers to their questions, he said.
“In the future, this community [may] realize it can’t afford keeping these two places,” Father Kallumkalkudy said. “One place may be chosen and the other might be closed or they will find some other use for that.”
Father Anthony Criscitelli, TOR, who will continue to be pastor of St. Bridget as a combined parish, said parishioners are “creating a new community.”
Throughout the Advent weekend liturgies, two people from each parish have brought a light from the respective sanctuaries to light the wreath in the other church.
“When we do that, we pray that we might recognize the many ways that Christ desires to be born in us,” Father Criscitelli said. “We’re focusing on the fact that Christ desires to be born in this new parish community.”
Each parish has about 200 families. There are many older couples and families at St. Bridget and St. Austin, some of whom live in nursing homes, Father Criscitelli said.
A combined transition committee has been meeting regularly since November to discuss ways to integrate the ministries and social activities and all aspects of parish life into the one new St. Bridget parish, Father Criscitelli said.
“I am happy to say that after kind of a bumpy start, we are on the right track,” he said.
Father Kallumkalkudy said, “I think the Holy Spirit is very active and he is bringing everything to the right conclusion.”