Area's Catholics Look down the Road

By Gail Ober
Laconia Citizen
May 5, 2008

Parishioners eager to hear the proposal for the local Catholic Church consolidation gathered at Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Lakeport Sunday afternoon and for the foreseeable future, it appears the future of the Catholic community in Laconia will entail one parish, two priests, and three churches.

According to the Rev. Robert Gorski the area known as Cluster 10, which consists of St. Joseph Church in Belmont; St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Tilton; St. Paul Church in Franklin and the three Laconia parishes of St. Joseph Church, Sacred Heart Church, and Our Lady of the Lakes Church will reorganize under four priests — one in Belmont, one to be shared by Tilton and Franklin, and two to minister in a new combined parish in Laconia.

The future of St. Helena Church in Weirs Beach, a seasonal church operated by Our Lady of the Lakes, will be studied for two years.

"Although the pace seems glacial at times, we are very sensitive to our effects on people's lives," said Gorski who said Bishop John McCormack and the Manchester Diocese have approached consolidation carefully and thoughtfully with an eye to the personality of each parish as well as geography.

He said the process began in 2002 when the Long Range Planning Commission determined there would be 75 priests available to the Manchester Diocese in 2012 — the projected end of the consolidation process — as opposed to the 130 serving then and the 100 serving now.

He said the initial plan to combine Belmont with Sacred Heart and St. Joseph's with Our Lady of the Lakes and have only three priests for Cluster 10 was found to be unfeasible in part because of the geography.

If accepted by McCormack, the new "Laconia" parish will have a different name and each of the three churches will initially remain open, with the scheduling of Masses to be decided by the two priests assigned to the new parish. The administration of the three churches of administrative lay personnel will be evaluated after the consolidation but he assumed there will be some streamlining. He also said the priests would depend on and encourage more lay participation from the membership.

While many parishioners initially were concerned with the mechanics of the consolidation, one man said all the people need to work together for the success of the mission.

"Mission trumps management," agreed Gorski who said the primary concern should be the ministry and tending to the spiritual needs of the community. "If it takes three buildings, then we'll do what we need to do to keep them open."

Judge David Huot said the creation of one new parish is preferable to "linking" two separate parishes together because "linking" encourages separatism while "merging" encourages togetherness.

"There are many subsidiary issues, but the big difference is how long it takes for us to come together," said Huot, adding that the planning commission and the bishop should work swiftly and not continue to drag out the process.

Gorski said the next step is for McCormack to accept the recommendations of the planning commission and, if he does, to determine how long it will take to implement them.

Decisions as to which priests will go where, though important to parishioners and, no doubt, to the priests themselves, will be made at a later date.

As to the future of the church, Gorski responded to questions about married priests and women joining the priesthood by saying he cannot officially speak to those issues but he feels the problems within the church have less to do with the number of priests than the number of parishioners.

"There's too many empty pews," said Gorski, encouraging those in attendance to try and encourage more people to join the church — especially young people. "They are our future."


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