For 20 months, I have been following the formation of the plan to close and consolidate Roman Catholic churches in the Twin Cities. I also have been following the dioceses in Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland and other places where closure plans met with great objections. In Boston, a congregation staged a sit-in to keep its archbishop from closing a parish. And there is a longstanding legal battle between parishioners of a Polish church in St. Louis and its archbishop.
I didn't want that to happen here and hoped for the best. The planning team here did an excellent job in the face of declining membership and funds in a third of the parishes of this archdiocese. This trend couldn't be allowed to continue.
But when I read the first reports in the newspapers, I was shocked at some of the decisions.
I knew that something had to be done in northeast Minneapolis, where there were nine parishes within a couple of miles of each other. But the stories said that Holy Cross was closing. I couldn't believe that Holy Cross, the largest and among the most beautiful of the parishes, was on the merge and close list.
I'm not a member of that parish but I decided to attend that Saturday evening mass to see how the ethnic Poles in the parish would react. (I'm half Polish, and I suspected the reaction would be volatile.) The Rev. Glen Jensen, the pastor, who I have thought to be a mild-mannered man in the five or so years I have known him, came to the pulpit, looking as mad as I have ever seen anyone.
His first words were: "Holy Cross is not closing!"
Then he explained that the newspaper announcements had it wrong, because the papers didn't understand what was meant by "merger" under church law. It was not like Northwest "merging" into Delta. The four parishes would be merged into a new parish, headed by St. Anthony of Padua, the oldest territorial parish. They will form a new parish and will be the legal parish, under a new name. None will close until at least Jan. 1, 2012, and then only if their pastors and the lay council of the new merged parish agree. Many other mergers will begin on Jan. 1, 2011.
In the church, merging doesn't necessarily mean closure. But media accounts continue to suggest that all 21 of the merged parishes will close. Actually, the word "close" does not appear in the final archdiocesan decrees.
Most probably will close, especially those with tiny congregations. My thanks to Archbishop John Nienstedt and his team for having done a good job. There doesn't seem to be much negative reaction so far.
Fortunately, the archbishop was astute enough to keep the pastors of the targeted parishes informed about their new status before the release of the plan. But the wording of the plan might have been more clear and prevented hundreds of phone calls to many parishes early that Saturday. And it might have lowered the blood pressure of some very interested Catholics.
Ray Marshall, retired after a career in printing, now does volunteer work and blogs about Catholic topics in Minnesota and the region at Stella Borealis.