Church Prepares for Time of Change

Jackson Citizen Patriot

July 20, 2008

The following is a Jackson Citizen Patriot editorial for July 20:

We cannot pretend to read the mind of Bishop Earl Boyea, but we can hazard a guess as to how he might act in the months and years to come. The region's Catholic Diocese is almost certain to lose parochial schools or even parishes in response to declining numbers of parishioners and priests.

The Jackson area's still-sizable Catholic population should prepare for that future with faith that the Church can emerge stronger after any changes. A report crafted with input from 94 of the diocese's 97 parishes landed in Bishop Boyea's hands this month. He suggested that he will act on its ideas now and over the next few years. He has little choice.

    In the Jackson area, he must consider these two facts:

  • The area's 10 Catholic churches lost 2,000 members from 1995 to 2005

  • Local Catholic schools have seen a steady slide in enrollment. Two schools St. Joseph and St. Stanislaus have closed in the last decade. The others have banded together to pool resources and raise money for their common mission.

The Catholic Church remains strong, particularly in this area. The Lansing Diocese is the second-largest in Michigan, and Catholics comprise the largest religious group of any in this state. A committed Catholic community in Jackson has kept local parishes vibrant, even in economic times worse than these.

Yet the numbers of churchgoers and students in Catholic education point to the likelihood of change. The Archdiocese of Detroit which the bishop served until April went through a painful consolidation of parishes two years ago after facing many of the same issues as Jackson.

Even before the report was complete, the Lansing Diocese has been taking steps in the Flint area. Four parishes are being combined, while one elementary/middle school with 60-some students will close.

Locally, change may not be drastic. Churches could share a priest, for example, or they might cut the number of services to parishioners. Those might not be popular, but they ultimately are mild in scope.

More dramatically, parish schools might be combined. Schools, in particular, are vulnerable to consolidation, if for no other reason than the economy.

A religious education that might cost a few thousand dollars is a bargain, but it also is a major expense for many families that struggle with tight budgets.

Change appears inevitable, but the diocese and local parishes are taking the correct view that the Church can emerge stronger. A recent Lansing Diocese newsletter said the diocese hopes to "deepen its response to the needs of all those we serve and that our people will respond to the call to wholeness and holiness in these challenging times."

The Church's leaders have done well to prepare for whatever may come. Through planning and prayer, Jackson County Catholics also can be ready to accept the next step in their community's faith journey.


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