Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
July 2, 2001
Parish mergers well underway
ToPs Report quietly implemented over past 3 years
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Numerous rural and city parishes have been clustered, merged and closed since the committee that recommended such action released its report to the archdiocese two-and-a-half years ago.
John Acheson, coordinator of the Transformation of Parishes program (ToPs), said he could list at least 40 small parishes and missions that have either no Mass or a reduced number of Masses due to implementation of the recommendations.
At least six of those churches have been closed completely, he said.
"So there's been some profound movement in terms of the direction of this plan. So to say that the plan is not being implemented is not correct. It's being implemented almost a bit faster than what some of us had anticipated."
And as priests continue to retire or pulled out by their religious orders, more parishes will merge and close, he warned.
Acheson noted his work "just about finished" — his job will soon disappear. But the priests' personnel committee will oversee its implementation after he is gone.
"But I suppose the fact I'm here two years longer than I'm supposed to be here it's an indication that the archbishop has taken the task very, very seriously," he commented.
Currently 34 diocesan priests and 33 religious priests are serving in the Edmonton Archdiocese, some of whom have already announced their retirement.
Acheson said, "There is not much flexibility with the recommendations, except in the timelines, and that's going to be dictated by the number of priests that are available."
If a parish is scheduled to close or merge upon their pastor's retirement, that's what will happen, he said. "In every case it has happened."
The archdiocese has been amalgamating rural parishes for a number of years. But in 1998 it launched a complete overhaul of its parish structure to accommodate to shifting populations and a decline in the number of priests. The restructuring is based on the Forward Into the Future plan submitted by ToPs, which calls for the clustering, merger and closure of parishes throughout the archdiocese.
According to Acheson, the archdiocesan parish structure has changed dramatically since he submitted the ToPs report in October 1998.
He said at least 20 rural parishes have organized themselves into different kinds of clusters and are sharing priests and resources. The Wetaskiwin, Hobbema and Ponoka parishes, for example, have been clustered and are being served by just one priest instead of three.
Viking, Holden and Tofield are also part of a cluster being served by one priest. Drayton Valley and Evansburg are also working together and so are Provost and Wainwight.
The Killam area is no exception. Father Larry Pederson, the area pastor, celebrates Mass for members of 11 small communities in three Eucharistic centres.
Acheson also mentioned changes in Stony Plain and Spruce Grove, where both parishes were closed and a new one has been formed. The newly-created parish is now building a new, larger church to accommodate parishioners from both communities. "So a lot, a lot of changes have taken place," he said.
Now a number of those small, priestess communities have actually closed "and I think more are being considered (for closure)," Acheson said, noting that the churches in communities like Glenevis, Busby and Breton have been closed completely.
In Edmonton, St. James and Immaculate Conception parishes have been closed and merged with other parishes.
Immaculate Heart Parish in the Ritchie area will close when Spiritan Father John Cunningham retires later this year, unless his order assigns a new priest to the parish. Other parishes scheduled to close when their pastors retire are St. Patrick's and St. Clare's.
Some city parishes have twinned with their neighbours and now are being served by only one priest, as it is the case of St. Anthony's and St. Agnes parishes. The same thing happened at St. John the Evangelist and Holy Spirit parishes, both of which are officially under one pastor, although other retired priests are helping out.
"Three years ago there were two priests serving (each) St. Alphonsus and St. Paul parishes; now there is one priest," noted Acheson.
"This all forecast in the plan. So a tremendous amount (of change) has taken place."
Father Greg Bittman, chancellor of the archdiocese, said, "The plan is ongoing and is being implemented as things come up. We take it very seriously because it deals with people who have invested time and energy in their parishes."
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