North Minneapolis’ St. Bridget parish discerns to close St. Austin campus

| March 6, 2019 | 0 Comments
The St. Austin campus of the Parish Community of St. Bridget will close, leaders announced Jan. 28. Masses now are celebrated exclusively at the St. Bridget campus.

The St. Austin campus of the Parish Community of St. Bridget will close, leaders announced Jan. 28. Masses now are celebrated exclusively at the St. Bridget campus. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

After a months long, parish-wide discernment process, St. Bridget in north Minneapolis will close its second campus at the former parish of St. Austin, its leaders announced Jan. 28.

Weekend Masses have been celebrated exclusively at the St. Bridget campus since February.

“We know it has not been easy,” St. Bridget Parish Administrator Joni Sandlin wrote of the discernment process in a letter announcing the change.

The parish — which calls itself the Parish Community of St. Bridget — plans to accommodate requests for funerals at the St. Austin campus on a case-by-case basis, the letter stated, as long as the site is maintained for that purpose. Its leaders also plan to hold “a healing ceremony” for the St. Austin campus and rededicate the St. Bridget campus.

The decision was made carefully and prayerfully, said Father Thomas Santa, St. Austin’s parochial administrator. A discernment process grew from a phone survey parish leaders initiated in May 2018 asking parishioners to identify what they saw as the parish’s needs. They reached about 90 percent of the parish’s 375 registered households, Father Santa said, and many respondents said the parish needed to consolidate ministry on one campus.

“Something that made a lot of sense seven years ago did not continue to make a lot of sense to a lot of people,” Father Santa said of maintaining the parish’s two-campus system.

In September, Father Santa held a well-attended, town hall-style meeting on the topic of choosing a single campus. He asked parishioners to engage in a discernment process by answering a question: “How do we believe that this parish community should be Church in north Minneapolis?” And, second, which campus would make that a reality?

About 200 total people regularly attend weekend Masses at both campuses, Father Santa said. In November, all Masses and parish events were held at St. Austin so parishioners could get a sense of what that would be like. The campuses shared December liturgies and events, and in January, all were held at St. Bridget.

At the end of January, parishioners were asked to share their campus preference — a process Father Santa called “recording their discerned judgment.” When the results were tallied, 57 percent of parishioners chose the St. Bridget campus, and 43 percent chose the St. Austin campus. Parish trustees and staff recommended the St. Bridget campus to the parish council and finance council, which affirmed the decision Jan. 28.

Father Santa, a Redemptorist who has served at St. Bridget for 17 months and who also ministers at St. Gerard Majella in Brooklyn Park, said that even he had a change of perspective during the discernment process. He initially expected the St. Austin campus would be kept, and he spent time evaluating its office space potential. However, when he considered the question he posed on being Church in north Minneapolis, he realized the St. Bridget campus offered important neighborhood visibility that the “tucked-away” St. Austin campus didn’t.

At the beginning of the discernment process, Father Santa said he advised all parishioners to participate, and he warned those who didn’t that they might feel angry about the decision, no matter what it was. People who participated are less likely to feel upset about the decision, he said.

Some St. Austin attendees, however, are angry about the decision, and he and other parish leaders want to give them time to grieve the loss of the campus. He said the parish won’t hold a final event at St. Austin until people are better prepared for it. In the meanwhile, St. Austin events are transitioning slowly to St. Bridget.

“We’re trying to let it sink in slowly,” Father Santa said of the decision. “We’re trying to do it as respectfully as possible.”

In 2010, St. Austin began a merger process with St. Bridget as a result of a comprehensive parish planning process undertaken by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The two parishes merged their canonical and civil structures to become one entity under the corporate identity of St. Bridget parish. The parish structure of St. Austin ceased to exist, while the church building named after St. Austin remained part of the new parish.

Upset by the change, some St. Austin parishioners petitioned in 2010 for the decision’s reversal, first to the archdiocese and then to the Holy See. Both denied the appeal. The merger was finalized in January 2012.

Since then, St. Bridget’s leaders have worked to unite their two communities while managing two campuses.

By consolidating ministry on the St. Bridget campus, Father Santa noted that the parish will also be able to continue its relationship with Sojourner Truth Academy, a public charter school that rents St. Bridget’s former parochial school building.

The future of the St. Austin campus is undetermined, but Father Santa said he would prefer its use support the mission of the wider Church, likely through use by another Christian denomination. Church law requirements would make transitioning the campus to secular use more complicated, he said.

“As a parish of St. Bridget’s, we can’t afford to run two campuses financially, but we also can’t afford to run two campuses pastorally,” Father Santa said. “You have to bring the people together in a single parish, and that’s what the people were saying. The people were saying, ‘We need to feel as if we’re a single parish, not two parishes.’ That’s what we’re trying to get at.”

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