St. Michael in West St. Paul to cease operation

| November 1, 2016 | 2 Comments

With finances drained, St. Michael in West St. Paul will cease operations in late November.

St. Michael’s parochial vicar, Father Andrew Brinkman, made the announcement at Sunday Mass Oct. 30. Father Brinkman explained to the congregation that parish leadership made the decision in light of the parish’s lack of funds and significant expenses.

“It was difficult for parish leadership to come to the decision to suspend operations, but as you may know from the two parish listening sessions in the past two months, there simply isn’t adequate money to continue paying the staff and keep the lights and heat on in December,” Father Brinkman read in his announcement.

A parish that celebrated its 150th anniversary in late September, financial struggles mounted at St. Michael in recent years. Less money in the collection plates due to shrinking Mass attendance and losing St. Michael School hindered finances.

“It’s been a slow death with a number of factors involved,” said David Gjengdahl, a St. Michael parish trustee.

Gjengdahl and Pat Foley, both parishioners for 24-plus years, serve as St. Michael’s trustees. With pastor Father James Adams, they serve as the parish’s official representatives in civil law. The St. Michael parish leadership approached the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis earlier this year about the parish’s financial state.

St. Michael’s parish leadership also met with trustees from the other two parishes that St. Michael clusters with — St. Matthew and Our Lady of Guadalupe — regarding options. Father Adams and company then hosted a listening session for St. Michael parishioners on Aug. 30.

Decisions remained on hold when Archbishop Bernard Hebda and archdiocesan leaders visited St. Michael on Oct. 17 for another listening session. Archdiocesan staff explained the financial state of St. Michael and its options, and they fielded questions for the 100-plus people in attendance.

Archdiocesan Chief Financial Officer Thomas Mertens showed St. Michael’s financial state in numbers. A decline of $95,995 over the past three years in revenue from collections, festivals and building rentals hurt St. Michael financially. The parish had a remaining cash balance of $19,000 to work with at the time of the meeting, according to Mertens.

“The announcement that Father Brinkman made was really one that was almost dictated by the checkbook,” Foley said. “We weren’t going to be able to pay our salaries in the month of December. In justice, we had to let both the priests and the staff know that.”

While St. Michael will not have any staff or programs running after Nov. 27, the parish’s corporate status remains intact. St. Michael’s final Mass will be Nov. 27.

“I cried,” said longtime parishioner Carole Mulcahy about the announcement. “And then we had to sing at our Mass because I’m in the choir.”

The Presbyteral Council will meet Nov. 8 to discuss options for the parish, which canon law requires. Whether St. Michael will merge with another parish hasn’t been determined.

Community of Saints Regional School, which rents the St. Michael school building, will continue to use the property. The school formed through the cluster when St. Matthew and St. Michael schools joined with St. John Vianney in South St. Paul to form Community of Saints in 2012.

St. Michael’s perpetual adoration chapel will also remain open.

“It has a faithful group of adorers,” Father Brinkman said. “They’re committed to the adoration chapel. It was requested that it would stay.”

Father Adams was away from the parish and unavailable for comment at the time of the official announcement. Both Gjengdahl and Foley noted that St. Michael had a difficult financial situation several years before Father Adams’ arrival in 2015.

“I think he worked himself to the bone in trying to make it work,” Foley said.

Clustering, which began in 2010, presented challenges for St. Michael. The number of Masses dropped because it had to share a priest with another parish and later a third parish in 2015. St. Michael lost its school in 2012 when Community of Saints formed, and the parish paid severances for all of the St. Michael school staff.

Location hurt the Mass attendance numbers at St. Michael, too, with seven other parishes being within a 5-mile radius. A decline of practicing Catholics also whittled St. Michael’s numbers. Previous pastor Father Michael Rudolph led parishioners in going door-to-door around the neighborhood during the early 2010s for instance, but to no avail.

“It’s the sign of our times right now,” Gjengdahl said. “Still, at the end of the day, God be praised.”

Community of Saints Regional Catholic School to remain open

Although St. Michael in West St. Paul plans to cease operations this month, a Catholic school will continue to use the property.

Community of Saints Regional Catholic School, which opened in 2012, leases the St. Michael school property and uses the parish church for school Masses. Principal Bridget Kramer expects the arrangement to continue beyond the current school year.

“Our understanding is that we will be responsible for the property ­­­— not like it being given to us, but that we will be staying on here,” Kramer said.

Kramer wants the school to have a 10-to-15-year lease with the next owner of St. Michael’s property. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Presbyteral Council was to discuss St. Michael’s situation Nov. 8.

“What I know is that we’re planning to stay here for the long term,” Kramer said.

Kramer said the school has a good financial situation and anticipates continued growth.

“This is our first year growing as a school, and we increased enrollment almost 10 percent this year,” she said.

Kramer expects that St. Michael families will continue to send their children to Community of Saints. She said they “seem very supportive of the school during this difficult time for them and their parish.”

Community of Saints school was created as a partnership among four parishes: St. Michael, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Matthew in St. Paul, and St. John Vianney in South St. Paul. St. Michael, St. Matthew and St. John Vianney operated their own schools prior to the partnership.

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