Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 5, 2000
Rural parishes avoid merger
Working together brings a solution that keeps priests coming from Fort Sask.
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Rural parishioners in the Vegreville-West region of the Edmonton Archdiocese have won an important battle in the struggle to save their parishes.
Faced with restructuring, the parishes in Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Redwater, Skaro, Lamont and St. Michael devised a plan to keep their churches open. And with the priests' appointments announced late last month, the archdiocese signaled that it accepts the parishes' proposal.
"The best thing (for the area) is to maintain the status quo," says Mae Adamyk, chair of the parish council at St. Michael's, 70 km. northeast of Edmonton. "Otherwise we would have to build a big church for the whole area."
The archdiocese's Faithful Into the Future plan called for the six parishes to merge, working under one pastor. For some parishes this would mean losing their weekend Mass and eventually their churches.
Parishioners in the area agree with the need to restructure but are not ready to let go of their churches and identity. So they developed a joint proposal to preserve both while allowing restructuring to occur.
In the proposal, the parishes asked for two priests, six regular Masses for the area (two at Fort Saskatchewan, two at Gibbons/Redwater and two at St. Michael's, Skaro and Lamont) and the retention of the Skaro grotto as a centre of Marian worship.
The parishes also propose to create a travel ministry that would drive the priests to and from the rotating Masses on Sunday. They say each parish would continue with its own ministries for the Masses and that a joint meeting of representatives of each of the parishes will be held every three months.
"We decided that it was unacceptable not to have services in some areas," said Stephanie Young, representative of St. Clare's Parish in Redwater. "So we came up collectively with an arrangement."
The archdiocese seems to have agreed with the proposal and has assigned two ordained staff to serve the parishes - Father Duncan MacDonnell, the current pastor at Our Lady of Angels, and Father Jozef Wroblewski, a newly ordained priest working in that parish.
The Faithful Into the Future plan called for all parishes in the area to be clustered or merged by August 2000, at which time regular Masses would be offered only at Fort Saskatchewan.
Many parishioners saw the plan as a threat to their communities and reacted accordingly. "We felt rural churches were being attacked because they were small," said Adamyk. "We felt our faith communities were going to be destroyed."
Adamyk just turned 50 and can travel anywhere. "But we have elderly people who can't travel to go to Mass," she lamented in a recent interview.
Lamont was hit hard by the planned restructuring. Plans to build a new church in the town were put on hold after the archdiocese's parish restructuring plan was released and now the parish rents the Ukrainian Catholic church in Lamont for Mass. The parish's church had to be demolished a few years ago after its roof caved in.
Lamont will also lose its resident priest. Father Adam Lech, who also serves Skaro, St. Michael and Mundare, will be moved to a different parish this summer.
Despite all of this, Lamont's parish council chair Ed Medynski is upbeat. "I'm optimistic about the future," he said. "People are working together at finding solutions."
Norm Portelance, chair of the parish council at Fort Saskatchewan, called the parishes together to discuss the situation soon after the restructuring plan was released. Nobody showed up at the first meeting, except for him and his pastor. The regional pastoral council had to get involved to get things rolling.
"There was some reluctance at the beginning," he admitted.
But reality took over and all parishes eventually came to the table. The idea was to draw an alternative restructuring plan. Portelance helped to smooth things over by focusing on what was on everybody's mind: How to restructure the area parishes without making them disappear.
"I knew the other parishes wanted to maintain their identity," he said. "It doesn't help to go in with the (big parish) mentality of taking over (the smaller parishes)."
Portelance also knew that his own parish in Fort Saskatchewan, with 1,120 parishioners and a church capacity of 500, doesn't have room for all the parishioners from surrounding communities.
What to do? Compromise. To free a priest for the surrounding communities, Fort Saskatchewan agreed to cut its scheduled weekend Masses from three to two.
"It's easier to get the priest to them than getting them to the priest," Portelance reasoned.
"The reason we reached this agreement is because we all addressed the need to keep our churches open," said Adamyk. "This is the best possible solution. We are being fair and equitable to all faith communities."
"We are all winners if we are going to maintain certain types of services in all communities," said Young. "If Fort Saskatchewan is the only place where Mass will be celebrated, as the (archdiocesan) plan calls for, then we would be losers."
Moyra-Ann Paziuk, chair of the pastoral council at Gibbons, said it took a lot of meetings to devise an alternative restructuring plan but it was worth it. The leaders of all parishes in the area learned to work together and to compromise, which augurs well for the future, she said.
The experience left the leaders prepared for any eventuality, Paziuk said. "If we go down to one priest in the future, we'll have a Mass said in each community once a week. That way we'll keep all our churches open."
The priests' personnel committee reviewed the parishes' alternative plan and agreed to send two priests to the area.
"We can all learn from this group," said John Acheson, the architect of the archdiocese's restructuring plan. "It's a sign that ultimately people will do what they have to do to be Church."
Acheson said the group's proposal assures that "churches in the area will remain open at least for a while," but that cannot be taken as a permanent guarantee. "If they go down to one priest (in the future) all the little churches won't have Masses on a regular basis."
Joe Stasko, chair of the Vegreville-West regional pastoral council and chair of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, called the group's proposal a "good compromise" because it allows all the communities to remain intact while at the same time it follows the recommendations of the archdiocesan plan.
In the process, they lost the fear of change and started the development of a regional Church, he said. "They have learned to become a bigger community."
As a show of unity, members of all six parishes will meet at Redwater's Multiplex June 11 for a family friendship Sunday that will include Mass with Archbishop Joseph MacNeil and a golf tournament.