Diocese of Greensburg Announces Changes As Result of Planning Process

Indiana Gazette

October 6, 2008

GREENSBURG — Nearly three years after the Diocese of Greensburg initiated a diocesan strategic planning process to address a variety of issues, including aging and declining numbers of priests and parishioners, Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt announced a series of decisions that include closing, merging and partnering parishes.

He announced his decisions at a press conference Oct. 6 at the Bishop Connare Center near Greensburg. Parishioners in the affected parishes were informed of the decisions at Masses Oct. 4-5.

Noting the need to move from a “historical model” to a “pastoral care model” of how both diocesan and religious order clergy serve the diocese, Bishop Brandt announced the closing of 14 parishes and the merging of two parishes into one new parish. In addition, he said 26 parishes will enter into new or modified partner parish configurations. In partner parishes, one priest provides pastoral care and administration for two or more parishes. The moves affect parishes in all four counties and in each of the 10 regions of the diocese, which is comprised of Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland counties.

The changes are effective Oct. 30.

The following parishes will be closed: All Saints, Arnold; St. Boniface, Penn; St. Mary, Our Lady of the Snows, Parker; St. Bede, Bovard; St. Mary, Forbes Road; Holy Spirit, Fayette City; St. Timothy, Smithton; St. Charles Borromeo, Sutersville; Forty Martyrs, Trauger; St. Stanislaus, Calumet; Holy Trinity, Connellsville; St. Vincent de Paul, Leisenring; St. James, Maxwell; and St. Albert, Palmer.

The following parishes will be merged: St. Francis, Coral, and St. Louis, Lucernemines, to become Our Lady of the Assumption Parish.

The following parishes will be partnered: St. Joseph, New Kensington, and St. Mary of Czestochowa, New Kensington; St. James, Apollo, and Our Lady, Queen of Peace, East Vandergrift; Ascension, Jeannette, and Sacred Heart, Jeannette; St. Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Kittanning, and St. Mary, Yatesboro; St. Lawrence, Cadogan, and Christ, Prince of Peace, Ford City; St. Ambrose, Avonmore, St. Matthew, Saltsburg, and St. Sylvester, Slickville; St. Benedict, Marguerite, and St. Bruno, South Greensburg; St. John the Baptist, Perryopolis, and St. Hedwig, Smock; St. John, Connellsville, St. Rita, Connellsville, and Immaculate Conception, Connellsville; St. Raymond, Donegal, and St. Boniface, Chestnut Ridge; St. Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Leckrone, and All Saints, Masontown; St. Peter, Brownsville and St. Cecilia, Grindstone.

“I know that people are mentally and emotionally attached to their parishes and their churches in a way they identify with no other building or entity,” Bishop Brandt said. “They are baptized, married and buried there, and they have life-changing experiences there that mark them for life.”

He said when their parishes are closed, “it is understandable that they feel a part of themselves has been lost forever.”

To “assuage their pain and the grieving they must work through,” Bishop Brandt noted counselors from Catholic Charities will be available to parishes and pastors to help them through that process.

In addition, Bishop Brandt will celebrate Masses of Remembrance and Welcome in the successor parishes “to help parishioners celebrate their past and grieve their loss, and to be welcomed into a new community of faith where they can be comforted and find hope for the future.”

The schedule for the Masses of Welcome and Remembrance has not been finalized.

“Understand that the number of parishioners in the closing parishes represents approximately 2.5 percent of our Catholic population, yet they are being served by nearly 20 percent of our clergy in parish ministry,” Bishop Brandt said. “I cannot in good conscience continue to justify this disproportionate use of our resources.”

Bishop Brandt said he must appoint priests “where they are needed most, taking into account the reality of demographic changes due to aging parishioners and population shifts.”

He said there is population growth in certain areas in the diocese, and “I must appoint priests to the parishes in those places so they can most effectively serve the greatest number of the faithful.”

Bishop Brandt said he directed the diocese to enter a comprehensive strategic planning process in 2005 in order to help him fulfill one of his primary responsibilities as bishop: to ensure the Catholic Church in the diocese will continue to be “faith-filled, vibrant and strong so we can pass the faith along to our future generations while also evangelizing others by bringing to them the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ.”

A centerpiece of the planning process was the series of regional Lenten Listening Sessions in 2006, which were coordinated by the Diocesan Strategic Planning Committee that Bishop Brandt established in December 2005 and conducted by Regional Pastoral Councils. A total of 85 meetings were held in what were then 18 regions in the diocese with more than 9,000 participants from around the diocese.

Bishop Brandt said the sessions helped fulfill the promise he made shortly after being appointed Bishop of Greensburg in 2004, to “listen to what the people of the diocese had to say about the church they dearly love.”

The listening sessions focused on specific topics: parish structures and staffing, evangelization and faith formation, Catholic schools, and the administration of the sacrament of confirmation in the Diocese of Greensburg.

After the Diocesan Strategic Planning Committee reviewed the enormous amount of information from the listening sessions and several years of data on the diocese and discerned what it meant for its future, the committee forwarded a comprehensive report to Bishop Brandt on Sept. 25, 2006.

“I continued to listen to the people, receiving insights from regional pastoral councils and from various diocesan advisory groups as they met to address findings in the report,” Bishop Brandt said.

“After this broad and in-depth consultation process, I can say that there is a consensus across the diocese about what needs to be done,” he added.

Bishop Brandt began implementing some of the report’s recommendations shortly after receiving it. That included: placing a moratorium on major parish building projects; establishing an Office for Planning with a director; launching a survey of the older, assigned priests to determine their retirement plans; holding discussions with superiors of religious orders in the diocese to ascertain how many priests from their communities would be available for service in the diocese in the next 10-15 years; realigning deaneries and regions; establishing an Office for Evangelization and Faith Formation and hiring a managing director; addressing the governance of Catholic schools; and convening focus groups to examine the administration of the sacrament of confirmation in the diocese.

“I began telling parishioners during my pastoral visits to parishes around the diocese that we need to move from a “historical model” to a “pastoral needs model” in the way both diocesan and religious order clergy serve our diocese,” Bishop Brandt said. “I stressed that we must separate what is nice from necessary and that small and scattered is not a formula for long term survival.”

Bishop Brandt noted that during a six-month period in 2007, seven priests of the diocese, including a 49-year-old pastor, died.

“Those deaths put an additional strain on our clergy and made it clear that we did not have as much time as we had originally expected to implement some of the strategic planning recommendations specifically related to parish staffing and structures,” he said.

Currently, the Diocese of Greensburg has 83 active priests. Projections, which account for deaths, sickness, ordinations and departures, indicate that in five years that number will be reduced to 60, and in 10 years, to 49.

Bishop Brandt began implementing additional strategic planning recommendations, including the closing of six chapels of convenience effective January 2, 2008.

“Change is difficult,” Bishop Brandt said, then quoted the late Cardinal John Henry Newman: “To live is to change and to have lived long is to have changed often.”

“We want to believe that the parish in which we were baptized and where we received the sacraments will be there until the day we die. That is a guarantee I cannot make,” Bishop Brandt said. “I can guarantee, however, that with prayer, trust in God, and trust in each other, we can work together to help each other through these changes knowing that these decisions are being made to ensure that the faith we embrace will continue to be passed on to future generations.”


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