Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 30, 1998
The people speak
Parishioners begin to react to parish closures
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
with WCR Staff
From Didsbury to Edmonton, details of the archdiocese's parish restructuring plan began to hit home for hundreds of parishioners on the Nov. 21-22 weekend.
And while some expressed sorrow and shock, the most common reaction seemed to be one of resignation.
"It's a sad, but not a bad feeling," says Clem Kuelker, co-chair of the parish council at St. Anthony Parish in Didsbury. "There were a lot of tears, but I'm sure as people are waking up this morning they're feeling a little better, and as time goes on we will try to maintain a positive outlook."
Kuelker says the 150-family parish was expecting some changes, but as Archbishop Joseph MacNeil's pastoral letter was read and the plan for the Olds-Didsbury-Sundre region was outlined at Sunday Mass, the reaction from the congregation was "rather stunned."
The plan calls for parishes in Didsbury and Sundre to be consolidated with St. Stephen's Parish in Olds, which will share a priest with the expanded parish of St. Anne of the Prairies in Trochu.
The news hit particularly hard, Kuelker says, because St. Anthony's has spent the past 10 years raising funds for a new church, and had raised enough to cover 75 per cent of the cost for a new 465-square-metre facility.
"We were just at the point where we were waiting for approval from the archdiocese to build," he says, adding that as late as February, the parish expected approval to be given as soon as the restructuring report was released.
Now, the question of what to do with the money raised needs to be addressed. A new church will have to be built to accommodate the consolidated parish and Kuelker says he is hopeful it will be in a central location.
"Then we will have a good, big, vibrant community to be part of," he says, "so not all is lost."
Father Les Drewicki, pastor of St. Stephen's in Olds, says there will undoubtedly be a lot of disappointment and sadness over the amalgamation, but "it's something that had to be done.
"As long as those responsible have chosen to have us celebrate the Mass around the Eucharist, and not in lay-led liturgies, then there is no other option. We will have to form larger communities."
Drewicki says the parish will "give people whatever they need," to deal with the situation, including opportunities to grieve the loss of their community church.
In the end, he says, "we will have to rely more and more on lay people to take responsibility and come through more than ever".
At St. Paul's Parish in Edmonton, parish council chair Art Mitchell says he'll lay out the details of the restructuring plan to the parish at a special meeting Dec. 2.
St. Paul's is one of four parishes along 118th Avenue which will be merged into St. Alphonsus Parish in August 2000.
"There's no real surprises for me in the report and I don't think there's any real surprises for the parishioners either," Mitchell told the WCR.
"I don't expect we'll have a lot of kickback from our parishioners. We've been keeping them informed all along."
At Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Father John Cunningham thinks the expanded role of the laity is one of the most positive aspects of the Faithful Into the Future report.
The report "does not recommend that churches close," Cunningham says. "It recommends we look at reality, and the reality is that in a few years, there may not be sufficient priests to serve the current parishes."
"More people will need to take on a greater role for the good functioning of the Church," he says. "This is an assurance that the spirit of the parish and the Church will continue.
"We cannot forget that Christ promised to be with us always."
Cunningham's primary concern for his parish of about 375 families in south Edmonton is for "long-standing members who might be hurt," as well as parishioners who come from outside the area because they are attracted to the smaller church atmosphere.
Under the restructuring plan,
Immaculate Heart is slated to merge with St. Anthony Parish, but not, Cunningham says, until he is ready to retire as pastor.
"I want to assure (the parishioners) that I do not anticipate retiring for a number of years," says the 73-year-old Cunningham. "I want to give people time to get used to the idea of amalgamation, so that when it does happen down the road it will be something they have heard about and talked about."
At St. Patrick's Parish in north Edmonton, Father Frank Stempfle echoes Cunningham's determination.
"This is my last parish," says the 72-year-old pastor. "If they close St. Pat's, I won't be moved anywhere else. So I'm prepared to stay here as long as my health is good and I can serve the parish."
St. Patrick's plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary in June 2000, and hopes to put off amalgamation with St. Alphonsus, St. Paul and St. Clare parishes until after that date, Stempfle says.
He attributes the current shortage of priests to recent bad publicity, and to the fact that "we live in a fairly well-off society in which young people see that they can have most of the things they want, and they see that priesthood cannot offer them all that.
"One thing it cannot offer in particular is marriage."
But Stempfle says this is just a low point in a cycle which "will turn around again."
In the meantime, Drewicki says, the restructuring of parishes will require "tremendous adjustments, and a tremendous amount of creative thinking in the next while."