Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 23, 1998
Report charts course for coping with declining number of priests
By GLEN ARGAN
More than half the churches outside Edmonton will no longer have regular weekend Masses under a long-awaited plan for restructuring parishes.
The plan calls for 66 parishes outside Edmonton to be "consolidated" with nearby larger communities where Mass will be celebrated every weekend.
It also calls for the closure of 13 to 16 parishes in the city of Edmonton to accommodate the declining number of priests.
Sunday Mass, however, will still be celebrated in 52 churches outside of Edmonton and 28 to 30 in the city.
The plan, devised by John Acheson after a year of consultation with parishes and other groups in the Edmonton Archdiocese, has been accepted in principle by Archbishop Joseph MacNeil.
The archbishop, however, says the parishes themselves will have input in deciding how to implement the plan.
Called Faithful Into the Future: A Pastoral Plan for the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, the plan was unveiled Nov. 17 at the annual assembly of priests in Edmonton. Its recommendations are to be phased in over the next two to four years.
The report is the fruit of 10 years of discussion and widespread consultation last spring which involved nearly every parish in the archdiocese.
If it is fully implemented, 24 priests will serve parishes outside of Edmonton and 24 will serve Edmonton parishes.
Currently, there are about 80 priests in full-time parish ministry in the archdiocese, split evenly between Edmonton and the rest of the archdiocese. Many of those priests, however, are at or near retirement age.
Most of the rural parishes to be consolidated under the plan have only a few dozen families and Mass is now only celebrated there one or two weekends a month.
The report defines a consolidated parish as "one which has been merged and about which a decision has been made to completely close and cease to utilize the church building for any pastoral activities. Such a church will be disposed of through the office of the archdiocesan pastoral administrator."
Another recommendation of the report is for national parishes in Edmonton to celebrate Mass in English at least once every weekend and to invite anglophone Catholics in the surrounding neighbourhoods to become part of their communities.
At least two national parishes are to be twinned with nearby parishes which use a different language.
The report also points to the possibility of building as many as four new churches to accommodate larger parishes. They are:
In an interview, the archbishop said the report "is faithful to the information given by the parishes over the years. It's based on the wisdom that's coming from the people."
- Olds, where Catholics from Didsbury and Sundre will travel to worship.
- A new parish which combines Stony Plain and Spruce Grove.
- A parish which combines St. Dominic Savio and St. John Bosco parishes in northeast Edmonton.
- A parish which combines St. Michael-Resurrection, Assumption, St. James and St. Jung Ha Sang (Korean) parishes in southeast Edmonton.
"I'm very pleased with the work Dr. Acheson has done," he said. "My hope is we will begin to implement some of these recommendations in August 1999."
MacNeil said while he accepts the report's recommendations in principle, it will be up to local parishes to devise "a workable solution" for their situations.
He said he will name a committee with representatives from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, Council of Priests and Council of Women Religious to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.
However, the report says "great caution" must be exercised in altering its recommendations.
"If major changes are made to the pastoral plan it is critically important to note the effect such changes would have on other parts of the plan," it says.
MacNeil said while he believes the recommendations are good ones, it's not his intention to issue a directive that each of them be carried out.
For example, the report calls for the parishes in Spruce Grove and Stony Plain to be merged and a new church built between the two centres.
"I'm not going to insist that that happen in a year or two," MacNeil said. "But I hope that's the conclusion people come to."
However, he did not rule out taking direct action if necessary.
"Ultimately, the bishop may have to say, as I have in the past, that we have only three priests for that area and this is where they're going."
MacNeil, who has visited all or almost all of the more than 160 churches mentioned in the report, said most of the parishes to be consolidated have been discussing the notion for some time.
"Many of them are just as aware as we are of the realities," he said. "But I don't know if you can ever soften that blow (of having your parish closed)."
It may be especially difficult for elderly people whose grandparents built the Church, who were married and had their children baptized there, and who plan to be buried in the church cemetery, he said.
But parishioners may decide to keep their rural parish open and use it for weddings, funerals and special feast days, he said. If people want their funeral in a church slated for consolidation and to be buried in the cemetery, "in most instances that's going to happen."
The report recognizes the need for "transitional time" in phasing in its recommendations. It also calls for structured rituals for the closing of a church and provides a suggestion for such a ritual.
It further notes that it will take time to form new communities and re-establish ministries in the new parish.