After 106 years, Franciscans leaving St. Paul parish

| March 16, 2015 | 0 Comments
Sacred Heart in St. Paul

Sacred Heart in St. Paul Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Franciscan Father Eugene Michel announced March 15 that health concerns are compelling him to leave Sacred Heart in St. Paul, and his Franciscan community does not have a priest available to replace him. Responsibility for the parish’s pastoral care will return to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Franciscans of the St. Louis-based Sacred Heart Province have served the Dayton’s Bluff parish for 106 years. Father Michel, 79, has been Sacred Heart’s pastor for 12 years.

At Mass March 15, parishioners received three letters: one from Father Michel, the second from Provincial Minister Franciscan Father William Spencer, and the third from Archbishop John Nienstedt.

In his letter, Archbishop Nienstedt called the Franciscans’ departure “a loss” and thanked Father Michel and the Franciscan order for their service.

“The archdiocese has begun the process of appointing another pastor for Sacred Heart, which I hope can be done without much delay,” he wrote.

The Franciscans’ official relinquishment is expected to occur this summer. In addition to Father Michel, two other Franciscans live at the friary: Brother Robert Gross, who serves as the guardian but is not involved in ministry at Sacred Heart, and Father Raymond Rickels, who works as a counselor at Hazelden addiction treatment center.

Sacred Heart was founded in 1881 to serve German Catholic immigrants. Diocesan priests staffed the parish before it was entrusted to the Franciscan Friars in 1909. The parish officially began serving St. Paul’s Hispanic community in 1998 and offers two Masses in Spanish in addition to two English Masses each weekend. The parish includes about 1,000 Catholics, Father Michel told The Catholic Spirit; about 850 are Spanish speaking Catholics from Mexico and other parts of Central America, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Peru and other South American countries.

“In the more than 100 years that we have been your parish clergy, we have always wanted what is best for the Sacred Heart Church community. We’re sure that Archbishop Nienstedt shares that desire,” Father Spencer wrote in his letter. “When all is said and done, everything is in God’s hands, but I can promise you that the archbishop and Father Eugene will do their very best to make sure your next pastor will be someone you’ll be glad and grateful to welcome and work with.”

Father Spencer and Archbishop Nienstedt decided in mid-January that pastoral responsibility for the parish would return to the archdiocese, Father Michel said.

In a separate letter, Father Michel assured his parishioners of his love and emphasized that the Franciscan spirit would remain in the parish.

“The Franciscan way of doing ministry has been stamped all over this parish, and this Franciscan way can never be erased or deleted, for it is present in each and every one of you,” he said.

He added: “I promise to serve the very best I can until the moment we will have to bid farewell, and Sacred Heart will turn a new page in its incredible history, and move into the future with the hope of continuing the longstanding tradition of being and outstanding parish.”


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