Vatican sides with Archbishop on merging parishes

Jerie Greve, left, and her son Tom Greve
Jerie Greve, left, and her son, Tom Greve, are among those who petitioned the Vatican to preserve their parish.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

The merger of several Roman Catholic parishes in the Twin Cities will go forward, despite objections by some members of the congregation.

In the last few days, two Twin Cities congregations got the news that the Vatican had rejected their merger appeals. St. Austin's will merge with St. Bridget.

The congregation of St. John's Church in St. Paul was also recently informed that the Vatican has denied its appeal of a merger with St. Pascal Baylon. Those parishes will merge in July 2013.

More than a dozen other parishes are in the process of merging. Holy Cross in north Minneapolis is still awaiting word from Rome.

Almost a year ago, the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced a new strategic plan to reduce the number of parishes by about 10 percent. The reasons cited were the priest shortage and changing demographics. Five parishes appealed to the Vatican. Four of those requests were denied. One of them was Church of St. Austin in north Minneapolis, where parishioners just received word that their merger with St. Bridget's will move forward.

Jerie Greve has attended St. Austin for 42 years. A regular volunteer, Greve carries her own key to the 1960s-era church building. Her son, Tom, serves as a Eucharistic minister and lector. Both of them were among the group of parishioners who petitioned the merger all the way up to Rome.

Jerie Greve said they learned they had lost their fight on Sunday.

"Father got a letter and over the weekend he had to tell the parish that we're closing Dec. 31," Greve said.

St. Austin's Rev. George Kallumkalkudy asked not to be interviewed for the story. He will not be part of the new church.

Last October, the parish at St. Austin balked when they received news about the merger with nearby St. Bridget. St. Austin's parish of 250 families was free of debt, and had made many improvements to its nearly 50-year-old building.

A parish meeting with representatives of the Archdiocese to explain the merger didn't satisfy them, Tom Greve said.

"One of our parishioners asked, 'Why are we closing?' and they referred to this matrix. And we're bright people, but we didn't understand all that," Greve said. "We were told it was a judgment call, and I think because it was a judgment call, we were the odd man out on the northwest side of Minneapolis."

Parishioners asked Archbishop John Nienstedt to reconsider. He declined. In a letter to the congregation last November, he cited the need for long-term viability, which he underlined, and then wrote, "In this regard, the decision to merge the parish seems not only prudent but necessary."

Tom Greve said the congregation does not know the Vatican's reason for upholding the merger, and MPR News was unable to obtain a copy of the correspondence from Rome. In a voicemail to MPR News, Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese, declined to comment on the Vatican's decision.

"It isn't our deal. It isn't our deal. The merger with St. Bridget's will proceed and there isn't any role for us in this particular story," McGrath said in the voicemail.

Dollars and buildings aside, the Greves say the decision by church higher-ups to fold their parish hurts.

"I just think they have no sense of being, of closeness, so I don't think we matter to them," Jerie Greve said.

Jerie Greve said she'll stay until Dec. 31 when the two parishes join together.

"I'll stick it out and then I'll check out some other churches, but I'm not going to volunteer like I have," she said.

"I'm going to do the same thing. I will find a church. My Catholic faith is very, very important to me," said Tom Greve. "But I can't see any scenario in which I become to be as involved, time-wise, financial commitment, partly because we don't want to be hurt again."

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said the door to St. Austin's church will be locked on Dec. 31. Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath had this correction: "St. Austin's church building will not close on that date and, quite possibly, not at all. Indeed, the two parishes will join together, but the eventual disposition of the St. Austin's Church is to be made by the parish/parishioners themselves, in concert with the pastor."

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