By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — MONTGOMERY — Some Catholic parishes in Daviess and Marin counties will be merging as part of a reorganization announced by the Evansville Diocese.
The plan unveiled by Bishop Charles Thompson involves mergers over the next three years that will impact 24 parishes. The changes are the result of a plan that began taking shape five years ago. “It is a process to discern ways to move forward as a healthy diocese,” said Evansville Diocese Communications Director Tim Lilly.
One of the changes decreed by the bishop is the merger of St. Peter’s in Montgomery with All Saints Church in Cannelburg with the new parish being called St. Peter.
Another merger involves the Catholic Churches in Martin County. St. John the Evangelist Parish in Loogootee will be joined by St. Martin of Tours in Whitfield, Immaculate Conception in Shoals and St. Joseph in Bramble and the new parish will be called St. John the Evangelist. There were no changes announced for the Catholic Community of Washington.
The remaining mergers impact churches throughout the 12-county area in southwestern Indiana.
In an open letter being sent to Catholic families throughout the diocese Evansville Bishop Thompson talked about the changes. “Although I am quite aware that there are growing pains involved in any experience of change, especially involving something as personal as one’s church or parish, I am quite confident that new life and vitality will be realized throughout the diocese. I also believe that this endeavor will ultimately lead to healthier expectations of our priests, more vibrant parish communities and an enriched culture of priestly vocations.”
The mergers have been the result of a lot of study and included listening sessions involving priests, parishioners, and church leaders over the last three months. “This is not something that just came down from the home office,” said Rev. Joseph Erbacher at St. John’s. “This official process has been going on for a long time. I definitely think the consultation between the church leadership and the parish members will make this easier to accept.”
“Being in on the planning part I don’t think it surprises anyone,” added Rev. Jim Koressel at St. Peter’s. “The changes may not be something you necessarily like, but finally it is here. We can now start to work toward the future.”
In many ways the mergers in Daviess and Martin counties formalize what has been happening over the last several years. “I’ve been here for eleven years,” said Koressel. “The entire time I have been priest for both St. Peters and All Saints. Much of our efforts have been joined together for years.”
“For Martin County churches I don’t think this a drastic change because we’ve been doing a lot of this together already,” added Erbacher.
Something else that is tied to the merger announcement that may make it easier to accept is that none of the churches will be closed. Many of them date back into the 19th century. The churches can still be used for services like weddings and funerals and special events. The actual decision on how to use them will remain up to the parish priest, but it should help ease the transition. “We feel keeping the churches open, holding services there remains a possibility,” said Erbacher. “People who have been attending there for a long time do feel an attachment.”
The mergers will become effective July 1, 2014. “There are some places that have been working together for several years,” said Lilly. “The goal now is to bring those parishes together in a formal way and create one big family, one parish council, one financial council.”
All Saints and St. Peters have already begun work toward building that one family. “We have anticipated this merger since August,” said Koressel. “We’ve already begun joining the councils and hope to have a new council set by the first of the year.”
Moving forward church leaders see the mergers as positive moves. “I think once we get over the shock there will be an opportunity for great growth,” said Koressel. “There is a sunny side to this.”
“I can see this reinvigorating the church,” added Erbacher. “I feel an intense excitement over the things we can accomplish as a larger parish. This will create some great opportunities.”
The mergers are the first phase of a plan church officials hope will help them deal with changes in technology and demographics in the 21st century. “The bishop has said there will be other phases to this, but he has not given any kind of time line on when any additional changes will happen,” said Lilly.
Church leaders feel the process has set a positive stage for the future of the church. Bishop Thompson’s open letter stated: “Our strategic planning efforts have consistently revealed the passion and devotion of our Catholic family across the diocese. These people enthusiastically stepped up to tackle the challenge of altering the landscape of the diocese in ways that will renew and bolster the spiritual vitality of our parishes.”