Responses to More Questions About Parish Merging
C. One concern among many St. Mary’s parishioners is the perception that in a merger, they would be paying to keep St. Michael’s and/or St. Kilian’s churches open, which to them seems to be an injustice. I suspect this perception is due to the fact that St. Mary’s always has a much higher weekend collection than the other parishes, and frequently enough, St. Michael’s and St. Kilian’s do have very low collections, especially St. Michael’s.
R. There are many things I would like to say in response to this concern. The first is that the primary motivation for considering a merger is not financial benefit, or to spread wealth out from one parish to other parishes. As discussed in last weekend’s column, each parish has its share of buildings and grounds maintenance issues to attend to. There really isn’t extra money to spread around when one takes this into consideration. One parish cannot really afford to “subsidize” another parish. The primary motivation for a merger, in my view, would be to build a larger and stronger Catholic community of faith in our area, with a renewed evangelical mission and vision for the future. This new community could then discern in the future, as necessary, how to best use (or not use) their collective resources (buildings, finances, parishioner volunteers, etc.).
That said, there are a number of things to consider when we try to compare the different financial situations of our parishes. One thing to consider is that all three of our parishes for the last several years have been sharing what would ideally be one single parish’s weekend Mass schedule. There is only one weekend Mass at each church – and rarely are they ever full. St. Michael’s, which appears to be struggling the most in terms of weekend collections, has what some might argue is the least desirable Mass time for the survival of a parish. Five PM on Saturday does not work for a lot of families. And, since Hewitt is closest to Marshfield, whose parishes offer many other Mass times, I suspect many St. Michael’s parishioners have gradually disconnected with their parish, frequently attending Mass elsewhere. I’m sure finances in each parish would be quite different if St. Michael’s had a Sunday morning Mass, and St. Mary’s or St. Kilian’s only had the 5pm Mass on Saturday. In this respect, I think it is only fair to see St. Michael’s financial struggles as somewhat of a shared problem – since we all share one weekend Mass schedule.
While collections have been lower at St. Michael’s and St. Kilian’s in comparison to St. Mary’s, we also must not forget the fact that these parishes are much smaller than St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s has 296 registered households, while St. Michael’s only has 183, and St. Kilian’s has only 198. Naturally, a smaller parish population will not have weekend collections as high as a larger one. Finally, it may also be the case that St. Mary’s has higher collections because they are accustomed to supporting a school as recently as 2007. Not having a school as recently in the other two parishes has likely impacted the felt urgency in giving more generously.
No parish merger would be perfect, and there will always be uncertainty about exactly how things will turn out in the future. In order not to get bogged down by the complexities and uncertainties before us, I think it best for us always to go back to the most important question: What kind of community of faith do we want to be in the future? Do we want to just survive, or to thrive? If we focus on the benefits of a merger and what we want to become, it will be worth the sacrifices and uncertainties that come with making a change, and being open to further changes in the future if they are necessary.