Parish restructuring: Hard work by many, for the good of all (Editorial)

It would be too easy to look at the list of almost 60 parishes engaged in a restructuring or dialogue process this autumn and expect that they'll all be ordered to close at any moment without so much as a peep from pastors and their parishioners. Far from it.

The parish restructuring process currently under way in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia addresses many thorny issues for planners but only has one goal: to strengthen parish life.

Indicators of parish health, including marriages, baptisms, funerals, parish organizations, participation in devotions and particularly Sunday Mass, along with the condition of a parish's physical plant and finances, all help to paint a picture of a weak or strong parish. Projections of fewer priests available to serve in parishes in the future also are considered.

At the end of the day - that means January at the earliest for some parishes, March for most others - some parishes might close and merge with others. But not before extensive discussion and consultation with parishioners, pastors, archdiocesan administrators and clerical leaders result in proposals that might not be desirable, but will be necessary.

The hard but obvious truth is that there are more parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2012 than can be supported by the Catholic community at this time. It is no longer 1960, or 1980 or even 2000. An unfliching look under the hood of parishes must be done now in light of today's realities.

In some areas of the Archdiocese two, three or four parishes are located less than a mile from each other, in some cases only blocks away. The reasons stem from history: Parishes serving specific ethnic groups such as Italians or Slovaks or Poles sprang from the area served by a larger territorial parish; parishes also proliferated in neighborhoods densely populated by Catholics.

In both cases, the conditions of the past bear little resemblance to the present. Ethnic populations have become more assimilated into the general Catholic population and areas traditionally "Catholic" in character have become less so. The result is that fewer Catholics today must support a parish built to address the needs and numbers of yesterday.

The planning process, which CatholicPhilly.com presents in detail, not only addresses parishes themselves but how they together serve a given area. The regions now under study include two areas of Delaware County and five regions in the City of Philadelphia.

Some of the parishes in the restructring are located in "mission-sensitive" areas such as the City of Chester in Delaware County, according to Msgr. Arthur E. Rodgers, coordinator of archdiocesan planning initiatives.

"You can't close St. Katharine Drexel (because) you'd have no (Catholic) church in Chester," said. "We'll do all we can to maintain the Catholic presence" in such areas.

CatholicPhilly.com presents a list of all the affected parishes here, organized by Parish Planning Area (PPA). For each parish in a PPA, the link leads to a page with detailed information about the parish.

For example, PPA 600 includes St. Barbara Parish in West Philadelphia. The link to the parish information page includes a link to the Report to Pastor, Previous 5 Years showing data from 2007 to 2011, and the Report to Pastor, Prior 5 Years for 2002-2006 data.

All the data is public, and is meant to foster the discussion that is essential to the process. "The people in the parishes are all asked for input," Msgr. Rodgers said. "That is very important."

Parish pastors, their parishioners, planners from the archdiocese, regional deans and auxiliary bishops together are working to foster "strong, viable parishes that serve the Archdiocese in its role of evangelization for years to come," he added.

Their goal is not to close parishes carelessly or callously, but to build the parish ideal described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which calls the parish the community of the Christian faithful that gathers the people together for the celebration of the Eucharist; where it teaches Christ's saving word; and where it practices Christian charity in good works and love (no. 2179).

That work is not easy, but it is essential to the life of the Catholic community in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in our day.


Dozens of parishes studying trends, plans for mergers

By Lou Baldwin

As part of the ongoing strategic planning process for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 59 parishes mostly in eight of the 44 Pastoral Planning Areas (PPAs) will undergo study over the next several months, with the purpose of deciding how best to utilize their collective gifts in living out the mission of the Church at both the parish and the archdiocesan level.

In seven of the PPAs — 320 and 370 in Delaware County, 500, 540 and 560 in Philadelphia-North, 600 and 650 in Philadelphia-South — some restructuring is expected to result in the merging of some parishes and the strengthening of the remaining parishes.

No parishes are expected to merge in PPA 430, which is in a process to encourage dialogue, because the northern Montgomery County area has experienced significant growth.

Pastors in the affected PPAs have already met with the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee to formulate suggested plans, set goals and identify criteria.

Now pastors are taking this information back to their finance and pastoral council and people, and working together with the other pastors of the PPA, their dean and a facilitator to come up with a proposal that will best serve their area.

Just how many parishes will be absorbed by other parishes is difficult to say at this point, according to Msgr. Arthur E. Rodgers, Coordinator for Archdiocesan Planning Initiatives.

However, as an example, under initial suggestions PPA 500 in Northeast Philadelphia would go from eight parishes to six, served by eight priests instead of the present 10. That scenario may not be typical because there are so many factors to consider.

One of the first benchmarks, Msgr. Rodgers suggests, is 1,200 households with at least 400 active contributors. Looking at statistical trends compiled from data over the last five years, planners will ask key questions:

- Is the parish growing or shrinking?

- Are marriages and baptisms increasing and what is the ratio between baptism and funerals?

- How many people attend Mass? What about other devotions?

- Is there educational and social outreach?

- What about parish organizations, including active pastoral and finance councils?

- Are the buildings in good repair?

- Can the parish meet its financial obligations?

Another factor might be geographic. Would a parish consolidation place undue hardship on the people because of the distance to their new parish?

"We ask the pastors to study the trends, not just what happened last year, to see if the trend means there is a need to merge with another parish or if trends are stable or improving and the parish could stand on its own," Msgr. Rodgers said.

If a merger is necessary, he noted, it would preferably be a weak parish into a strong parish, making it stronger, rather than two weak parishes merging that might just create a larger weak parish.

In the instance of mergers, it is expected that the name of the parish where the church is situated would be retained, rather than the adoption of a new name.

Also, in the case of a merger between a territorial and a personal (ethnic) parish, the surviving parish would be territorial, not personal.

Churches of parishes that are merged into another may remain in use as a worship site for a limited period of time, with specified restrictions on what may be celebrated there.

"Basically it is used for weddings, funerals and other celebrations," Msgr. Rodgers said. "We encourage that so people can move away slowly."

This was not the case in the very recent closing of Ascension Parish in the Kensington section of Philadelphia because the church itself was in such a state of disrepair that it had not been used for liturgies in years.

A painful difficulty when parish mergers are necessary is that people do have tremendous loyalty to the parish where they have worshipped for years.

As the pastors, in consultation with their people, prepare reports, the archdiocese is not looking for reports that say how great their individual parish is, Msgr. Rodgers noted.

"The report should say this is what we think is best for our PPA," he said. "They might come to the conclusion it is best that their parish stays open but there may be five other parishes in the discussion."

Under the timeline given to the parishes, the entire planning process is expected to conclude in a few months.

The process includes parish meetings of pastors with their pastoral and finance councils to discuss the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee's proposals, consultation with parishioners, meetings with the regional bishop and dean, and meetings of pastors with the other pastors in their PPA to compare their parish proposal and formulate a PPA-wide proposal.

The final plan will be presented to the Archdiocesan Committee for Strategic Planning.

If the proposal is approved at that point, it will be submitted to the Presbyteral Council for approval by Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Final decisions are expected to be announced in some cases as early as January or in others as late as March. At that point new pastors and transition teams will be appointed in affected parishes.

"We are stressing when a new parish is formed it is the evangelization of people, bringing people in," Msgr. Rodgers said. "The goal of this is to establish strong, viable parishes that serve the archdiocese in its role of evangelization for years to come."

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Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer and a member of St. Leo Parish, Philadelphia.


April 15, 2012

ARCHDIOCESE ANNOUNCES INITIAL ROUND OF PARISH MERGERS RESULTING FROM PASTORAL PLANNING INITIATIVE

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced today that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. has approved the recommendations of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee to merge several parishes across the Archdiocese in Coatesville, Germantown, and Manayunk. This ongoing restructuring will ultimately strengthen parish communities positioning them for future growth and sustainability.

"Restructuring our parishes will be a challenge for many families and individuals. Change is rarely easy. But we do need to take these steps to help every parish more effectively promote the Gospel and strengthen the future of our Catholic life together," said Archbishop Chaput.

The recommendations and resulting mergers are an outcome of the Archdiocesan-wide Parish Pastoral Planning Area initiative, which began in 2011. Parishioners at all affected parishes learned of the final decisions through letters mailed to all registered parishioners as well as announcements made at all Masses this past weekend. It is hoped that the planning and restructuring process will result in revitalized parishes throughout the Archdiocese that are better equipped to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of future generations.

The mergers announced today were based on a combination of factors, including, but not limited to, demographic shifts in Catholic populations, concentrated density of parishes in a limited geographic area, history of declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, increasing economic challenges that threaten sustainability, a decrease in the availability of clergy to staff parishes, and a review of facilities.

Parishioners will attend daily and Sunday Mass at the church of the newly formed parish. In some cases, the churches of the former parishes will remain open and be maintained as worship sites. At the discretion of the pastor, these sites will be utilized for weddings, funerals and feast days, as well as traditional and ethnic devotions. Because of the physical condition of some church buildings and the inability of the parishes to maintain them this will not be possible in all cases. Sunday Mass may also be celebrated at a worship site at the discretion of the pastor and the newly formed pastoral council. All parish property, assets and debts of the former parishes will be assumed by the newly created parishes, which will also be responsible for the care of all sacramental records.

The pastors from the merging parishes will form a transitional team made up of lay leaders from each of the merging parishes to assist in moving forward with building the new parish community.

The Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee, made up of lay persons, priests and Archdiocesan personnel, is examining all 267 parishes within the Archdiocese to gauge their viability and assess whether they possess the resources to accomplish their role in the mission of the Church and remain sustainable and vibrant faith communities. Parishes within each pastoral planning area will continue to carefully and thoughtfully examine their viability in order to make future recommendations. Additional parish announcements are expected in the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013 and 2014.

Parish Area Pastoral Planning is designed to be as collaborative and consultative as possible. Its goal is to provide pastors, after consulting their parish leadership, with the opportunity to dialogue with members of the Strategic Planning Committee in providing joint recommendations to the Archbishop for growth and sustainability within their respective geographic areas. Additionally, in the majority of cases, the regional bishop and the dean meet with the pastors as well as their pastoral and finance councils to hear their concerns and receive their recommendations.

The Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee shared all final proposals with the Council of Priests and the College of Consultors for the review before final approval by the Archbishop.

Parish Announcements Effective July 1, 2012:


Coatesville:
Our Lady of the Rosary Parish and Saint Cecilia Parish will merge at the location and keep the name of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish.
Saint Joseph Parish and Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish will merge at the location and keep the name of Saint Joseph Parish.

Germantown:
Saint Francis of Assisi Parish, Immaculate Conception Parish and Saint Vincent de Paul Parish will merge at the location and keep the name of Saint Vincent de Paul Parish.

West Oak Lane/East Mount Airy:
Saint Athanasius Parish and Saint Raymond of Peafort Parish will remain as free standing parishes.

Manayunk:
Saint Lucy Parish and Holy Family Parish will merge at the location and keep the name of Holy Family Parish.
Saint John the Baptist Parish, Saint Josaphat Parish and Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish will merge at the location and keep the name of Saint John the Baptist Parish.

Future Announcements:


After reviewing all of the recent proposals, the Archbishop directed that the merger plans for the following parishes receive more input, broader consultation and further study:

Phoenixville:
Holy Trinity Parish, Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish and Sacred Heart Parish will be studied further with a final decision expected within the next few months.

Germantown/Mount Airy:
Holy Cross Parish, Saint Benedict Parish, Saint Madeleine Sophie Parish, and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus Parish will be studied further beginning in September 2012 with a final decision expected by the spring of 2013.

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Editor's Note: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is comprised of 44 Pastoral Planning Areas (PPAs). It is expected that the first 22 PPAs will complete the work of planning and implementation over the next two years and that additional two years will be required for the remainder of the PPAs. For more information on the Parish Area Pastoral Planning, please visit www.archphila.org.

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Contact
Donna Farrell
Director of Communications
215-587-3747

June 3, 2012

ARCHDIOCESE ANNOUNCES PHOENIXVILLE PARISH MERGERS RESULTING FROM
PASTORAL PLANNING INITIATIVE


The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced today that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. has approved the recommendations of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee to merge parishes in Phoenixville. These mergers are the result of ongoing restructuring that will ultimately strengthen parish communities throughout the Archdiocese positioning them for future growth and sustainability. It is hoped that the result will be revitalized parishes throughout the Archdiocese that are better equipped to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of future generations.

The recommendations and resulting mergers are an outcome of the Archdiocesan-wide Parish Pastoral Planning Area initiative, which began in 2011. Parishioners at all affected parishes learned of the final decisions through letters mailed to all registered parishioners as well as announcements made at all Masses this weekend.

The mergers announced today were based on a combination of factors, including, but not limited to, demographic shifts in Catholic populations, concentrated density of parishes in a limited geographic area, history of declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, increasing economic challenges that threaten sustainability, a decrease in the availability of clergy to staff parishes, and a review of facilities.

Parishioners will attend daily and Sunday Mass at the church of the newly formed parish. The churches of the former parishes will remain open and be maintained as worship sites. At the discretion of the pastor, these sites will be utilized for weddings, funerals and feast days, as well as traditional and ethnic devotions for the duration of at least one year during the transition. Sunday Mass may also be celebrated at a worship site at the discretion of the pastor and the newly formed pastoral council.

All parish property, assets and debts of the former parishes will be assumed by the newly created parishes, which will also be responsible for the care of all sacramental records. The pastors from the merging parishes will form a transitional team made up of lay leaders from each of the merging parishes to assist in moving forward with building the new parish community.

The Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee, made up of lay persons, priests and Archdiocesan personnel, is examining all 267 parishes within the Archdiocese to gauge their viability and assess whether they possess the resources to accomplish their role in the mission of the Church and remain sustainable and vibrant faith communities. Parishes within each pastoral planning area will continue to carefully and thoughtfully examine their viability in order to make future recommendations. Additional parish announcements are expected in the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013 and 2014.

Parish Area Pastoral Planning is designed to be as collaborative and consultative as possible. Its goal is to provide pastors, after consulting their parish leadership, with the opportunity to dialogue with members of the Strategic Planning Committee in providing joint recommendations to the Archbishop for growth and sustainability within their respective geographic areas. Additionally, in the majority of cases, the regional bishop and the dean meet with the pastors as well as their pastoral and finance councils to hear their concerns and receive their recommendations.

The Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee shared all final proposals with the Council of Priests and the College of Consultors for the review before final approval by the Archbishop.

Parish Announcements Effective July 1, 2012:

Phoenixville:
Holy Trinity Parish and Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish will merge at the location of and keep the name of Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish.

Sacred Heart Parish and Saint Ann Parish will merge at the location of and keep the name of Ann Parish.

Previous Announcements:

In mid-April, the Archdiocese announced the initial round of parish mergers resulting from the Parish Area Pastoral Planning Initiative in Coatesville, Germantown, and Manayunk. Additional information regarding those mergers can be found at http://archphila.org/press releases/pr001955.htm.

Future Announcements:

Also in mid-April, Archbishop Chaput directed that the merger plans for the following parishes receive more input, broader consultation and further study:

Germantown/Mount Airy: Holy Cross Parish, Saint Benedict Parish, Saint Madeleine Sophie Parish, and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus Parish will be studied further beginning in September 2012 with a final decision expected by the spring of 2013.

Editor's Note: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is comprised of 44 Pastoral Planning Areas (PPAs). It is expected that the first 22 PPAs will complete the work of planning and implementation over the next two years and that additional two years will be required for the remainder of the PPAs. For more information on the Parish Area Pastoral Planning, please visit www.archphila.org.

Background on Phoenixville Parish Announcements Effective July 1, 2012


**A parish is always more than statistics as they do not represent the whole of parish life. They were only one part of the larger picture when developing recommendations for parish mergers. They do, however, provide a snapshot of a parish's sacramental activity and a gauge to project stability, growth or decline.**

Holy Trinity and Saint Mary of the Assumption Parishes (Phoenixville, Chester County)
Holy Trinity Parish and Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish will merge at the location of and keep the name of Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish. The two parishes are located directly across the street from one another. Holy Trinity Church will remain as a worship site. The pastor of the newly formed parish will be appointed with the regular priest personnel announcements in the coming weeks.

Holy Trinity Parish: 2006 2010
Infant Baptisms 6 5
Marriages 1 1
Weekend Mass attendance 446 373

Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish: 2006 2010
Infant Baptisms 26 18
Marriages 3 1
Weekend Mass attendance 513 511



Sacred Heart and Saint Ann Parishes (Phoenixville, Chester County)
Sacred Heart Parish and Saint Ann Parish will merge at the location of and keep the name of Saint Ann Parish. The two parishes are less than 0.75 miles away from each other. Sacred Heart Church will remain as a worship site. The pastor of the newly formed parish will be appointed with the regular priest personnel announcements in the coming weeks.

Sacred Heart Parish: 2006 2010
Infant Baptisms 19 14
Marriages 10 12
Weekend Mass attendance 565 477

Saint Ann Parish: 2006 2010
Infant Baptisms 96 79
Marriages 15 19
Weekend Mass attendance 1,359 1,334

Background on Future Parish Announcements


Holy Cross, Saint Benedict, Saint Madeline Sophie, and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus Parishes (West Oak Lane/East Mount Airy)
The merger plan for these parishes will be studied further to obtain more input and broader consultation. A final decision is expected by the spring of 2013.


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Contact
Kenneth A. Gavin
Associate Director of Communications
215-587-3747

September 25, 2012

ARCHDIOCESE ANNOUNCES PHILADELPHIA PARISH CLOSURE
RESULTING FROM PASTORAL PLANNING INITIATIVE

Ascension of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia to Close Effective October 1st


The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced today that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. has approved the recommendation of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee to close Ascension of Our Lord Parish in the Harrowgate section of Philadelphia after a study lasting several months.

Parishioners of the former Ascension of Our Lord Parish will be welcomed at either Holy Innocents Parish (approximately 1.7 miles away) or Visitation, B.V.M. Parish (approximately 0.9 miles away). These parishes will divide responsibility for all of the assets, debts, buildings and sacramental records of the former-Ascension of Our Lord Parish. Due to serious issues with the physical condition of the Ascension of Our Lord church building, it had not been utilized for quite some time. Masses were being celebrated in the parish rectory and the former school building due to safety issues with the church building and low Mass attendance. The church will not be maintained as a worship site due to lack of funds for needed physical improvements, which are estimated to cost at least $3 million.

This closure is part of the ongoing restructuring efforts, which began in 2011, that will ultimately strengthen parish communities positioning them for future growth and sustainability across the five-county Archdiocese. It is hoped that the end result will be revitalized parishes throughout the Archdiocese that are better equipped to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of future generations.

Parishioners previously learned of this final decision through recent announcements at weekend Masses. This closure, which is effective October 1st, was based on a combination of factors, including, but not limited to history of declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, increasing economic challenges that threaten sustainability, a decrease in the availability of clergy to staff parishes, and the deteriorated condition of facilities.

The Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee, made up of lay persons, priests and Archdiocesan personnel, is examining all 257 parishes within the Archdiocese to gauge their viability and assess whether they possess the resources to accomplish their role in the mission of the Church and remain sustainable and vibrant faith communities. Parishes within each pastoral planning area will continue to carefully and thoughtfully examine their viability in order to make future recommendations. Additional parish announcements are expected in the spring of 2013 and 2014.

Parish Area Pastoral Planning is designed to be as collaborative and consultative as possible. Its goal is to provide pastors, after consulting their parish leadership, with the opportunity to dialogue with members of the Strategic Planning Committee in providing joint recommendations to the Archbishop for growth and sustainability within their respective geographic areas.


The recommendations of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee are shared with the Council of Priests and the College of Consultors for their review before a final decision is made by the Archbishop.

Background on Parish Announcement Effective October 1, 2012


Ascension of Our Lord Parish (Philadelphia)
A parish is always more than statistics as they do not represent the whole of parish life. The figures presented below were only one part of the larger picture when developing the recommendation for closure of the parish. They do, however, provide a snapshot of a parish's sacramental activity and a gauge to project stability, growth or decline.

Ascension of Our Lord Parish:
Year 2007 2011
Infant Baptisms 17 7
Marriages 4 2
Weekend Mass attendance 391 188



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Editor's Note: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is comprised of 44 Pastoral Planning Areas (PPAs). It is expected that the first 22 PPAs will complete the work of planning and implementation over the next two years and that additional two years will be required for the remainder of the PPAs. For more information on the Parish Area Pastoral Planning, please visit www.archphila.org.


Contact
Kenneth A. Gavin
Associate Director of Communications
215-587-3747