By Jay Nies
Members of Church of the Resurrection parish in Wellsville must now go to a neighboring parish for weekend and holyday Masses.
The change is part of an ongoing reorganization of pastoral resources in the diocese, following two years of intensive consultation on parish vitality and viability.
Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki VG, vicar general for the Jefferson City diocese; Sister Kathleen Wegman SSND, chancellor; and Father Mark Porterfield JCL, judicial vicar, met with parishioners June 6 to announce the change.
Msgr. Kurwicki said the meeting went well, with the people understanding the reasons for the change.
Church of the Resurrection parish will continue to function, retaining its own parish council, finance council and religious education program.
Weddings, funerals and Masses on other special occasions will still be held in the church.
Plans call for a weekday Mass to be offered in the church each week.
Effective June 27, the Wellsville parish will share a priest with Immaculate Conception parish in Montgomery City, St. Joseph parish in Martinsburg and St. Patrick parish in Jonesburg.
The Montgomery City and Jonesburg parishes previously had one pastor, and the Martinsburg and Wellsville parishes had another.
The Montgomery City and Martinsburg parishes both have schools.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight has stated that the goal for these and other changes in the diocese is to help Catholics become “better together.”
Church of the Resurrection had 56 registered households in 2016, down from 62 in 2012. In that five-year period, the parish averaged 80 attending Mass on Sunday. There were two infant baptisms, seven youth confirmations, no marriages, and 11 funerals.
The church is located about five miles from St. Joseph in Martinsburg and eight miles from Immaculate Conception in Montgomery City.
“Points of light”
About 35 people attended the Wellsville meeting, including Father Joseph Abah, who is currently canonical administrator of the Martinsburg and Wellsville parishes, and Father Augustine Okoli, canonical administrator of the Montgomery City and Jonesburg parishes, who will become administrator of all four on June 27.
Although there is always grief and loss whenever a parish can no longer have regular celebration of the Mass, Msgr. Kurwicki has been amazed by “the depth of faith of the people who just shine out.”
“They’re like points of light,” he said. “It’s about much more than just showing up once a week. You can tell that they get it.”
“God opens a door”
Sr. Kathleen noted that Church of the Resurrection can continue on as a vibrant community of faith, even though its members must go elsewhere to receive the sacrament.
“It’s the community that comes together to be nourished and sustained through the sacramental life of the Church,” she said. “The people then go out to serve God as a community of faith, wherever they are.”
Based on what Msgr. Kurwicki saw and heard, he believes the people of Church of the Resurrection parish will continue to draw people further into the light of Christ.
“It’s part of the beauty and mystery of how God works,” he said. “If you’re open to adapting to a situation where there’s less, then God opens a door and you’re often amazed to find that there’s more.”
These changes come on the heels of a two-year diocese-wide consultation on providing for the spiritual needs of all Catholics in the diocese in light of shifting demographics and fewer available priests.
Msgr. Kurwicki noted that these changes were not the first, nor will they be the last.
It was announced April 22 that weekend and holyday Masses will be discontinued at Shrine of St. Patrick parish in St. Patrick, the Mission of Notre Dame in LaGrange and the Mission of St. Martha in Wayland.
Other parishes and missions are being combined under one pastor, while the number of weekend Masses in Jefferson City’s three parishes has decreased by four in the past year.
In discussing these things, Sr. Kathleen reminded the diocesan chancery staff how important it is to help parishes strengthen their vitality as communities of faith.
Since 2007, 13 men have answered the call to Priesthood for this diocese. Seven men are in various stages of priestly formation for the diocese at this time.
No priestly ordinations are scheduled for the diocese this year.
The number of active priests available for service in the diocese could fall by as many as 20 — from 66 to 46 — in the next five years, due to projected retirements.
That will leave the remaining priests traveling farther and farther to minister in the 95 parishes and 15 missions within the 22,000-square-mile expanse of this diocese.
From the field
Planning for that reality was the fourth priority in Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos’ 2010 pastoral plan for the diocese, “Christ’s Call … Our Response,” which was renewed and updated in 2016.
As part of that process, Sr. Kathleen and Father Joseph S. Corel, who was serving as vicar general under Bishop Gaydos, attended and facilitated deanery meetings in each of the diocese’s eight geographical regions.
Input from the leaders of each parish and mission was gathered in an effort to gauge parish vitality and find avenues for more effective collaboration among parishes and between parishes and the diocesan Chancery staff.
That information was taken into account in the discussions at meetings in each deanery to help determine how a diminishing number of available priests will be allocated in the years to come.
The representatives at each meeting worked together to develop recommendations for possible reconfiguration of parishes and missions.
The recommendations from the deaneries were combined into a single recommendation earlier this year to be presented to Bishop McKnight.
He and his newly reconstituted diocesan Priests’ Personnel Board took the recommendations into consideration in deliberations for this summer’s priest reassignments.
Unity of the Holy Spirit
Bishop McKnight often points out, “We are better together.” He believes drawing more people together for Mass will help strengthen the bonds of discipleship throughout the diocese.
He has summoned the people of the diocese to pray and work to promote vocations in the Church, as well as a new ardor and more effective methods for evangelizing.
“Fostering and nurturing healthy vocations to the diocesan Priesthood is all the more urgent for us in light of the large number of parishes without a resident priest,” he stated.