Catholic Churches

Down sizing

Parishes start process of examining mergers, ways to remain vibrant

By John Howell
Posted 2/14/17

By JOHN HOWELL More than 150 communicants from Warwick's 10 Catholic parishes squeezed into Hendricken's Founders Hall Wednesday night to consider a future that bodes fewer parishioners, less funds and a lack of priests. The train is on the track and"

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Catholic Churches

Down sizing

Parishes start process of examining mergers, ways to remain vibrant


More than 150 communicants from Warwick’s 10 Catholic parishes squeezed into Hendricken’s Founders Hall Wednesday night to consider a future that bodes fewer parishioners, less funds and a lack of priests.

“The train is on the track and we’ve been seeing it coming for 20 years,” said Father Robert Marciano, pastor of St. Kevin Church at the conclusion of the 90-minute long “town hall” meeting. Warwick Catholic churches have already taken steps to face the challenges. St. Rose of Lima and St. Clement merged and, as Father Marciano says, the combined parish is stronger for it.

But other parishes are faltering.

Msgr. Raymond Bastia, vicar for finances and planning at the Diocese of Providence, confirmed reports that St. William Church is closing with the final mass planned for Easter Sunday. Yet, he added, the final status of the church “remains to be evaluated.”

Msgr. Bastia and Sean Henseler, a 1984 Hendricken graduate and Naval officer for 21 years who is spearheading regional planning meetings, emphasized that Bishop Thomas Tobin is seeking parishioner input on the future of neighborhood churches.

“It’s not a top down decision,” Rebecca Page Perez, manager of the diocese office for pastoral planning, said in opening remarks. She said the aim is to fill pews and to have people feel they are welcome.

Henseler did not blame the audience for “automatically thinking this is about closing churches, but that’s not what it is.”

Henseler’s summation of diocesan statistics underscores the issues. He said mass attendance (for a single Sunday in November) was 126,900 in 2005 as compared to 105,100 in 2013. In 1975 64 percent of Rhode Island births were baptized as Catholics. In 2012 it was 28 percent. Also, in 1975, 52 percent of Rhode Island marriages were in Catholic churches. By 2012 the number had dropped to 16 percent.

The diocese also faces a shortage of priests. Henseler said there are 18 seminarians in line for the priesthood. Yet 63 priests are eligible for retirement in the next eight years, leaving a loss of 45 priests.

Referencing a November 2015 letter from Bishop Tobin, Henseler said the goal of a pastoral plan is to have vibrant parishes.

“The point is, the bishop wants to involve everybody,” he said.

Reading from Bishop Tobin’s letter, Henseler said considerations regional groups should make include, “how can the parishes collaborate with one another; which parishes might be affiliated with another; how many parishes are actually needed for the region; are some parishes no longer viable?”

The call is for volunteers from two, three and four parishes to start meeting over the next several weeks to explore ways they might collaborate and even merge so as to share resources, operate more efficiently, bring in new parishioners and extend the church mission.

The diocese started the first of the regional pastoral planning in West Warwick and Coventry a year ago. The process has likewise started in Woonsocket. Henseler said there was some adamant resistance with some priests refusing to collaborate. Nonetheless, he said those participating successfully identified scores of indicators of a viable parish from the number of registered families (900 being a threshold), to music ministry, lack of debt, youth ministry and outreach ministry that provide a helpful guide for others working on a pastoral plan. Some of the means parishes are collaborating include sharing a priest, staffs and coordinating events, such as bazaars, between multiple parishes.

Looking at the packed hall, Father Marciano concluded, “The good news is that the Warwick Catholic community is alive and well.” He said that he and Father Roland Simoneau, pastor of St. Benedict Church, who is retiring this year, are “sharing opportunities on how we can come together.”

“This is a challenge that God wants us to take on,” said Father Andrew Messina, pastor of St. Timothy. Father Messina offered three observations as parishioners started the planning process. He urged that they don’t shoot from the hip and “think this through;” to pray to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to recognize “we have great talent among us.”

The evening produced mixed reactions.

Lorie Earnshaw, a parishioner at St. Benedict, sees consolidation as a good thing. “We need to combine,” she said, “I would like to see more come in [to church].”

St. Timothy parishioner Frank Kernan called the effort “long overdue.”

“It’s right sizing and it can work,” he said.

St. Rita Church parishioner Ted Sarno scanned the room and declared, “We’re looking at the problem.” He observed that most of the people in attendance were between 65 and 70 years old and the church isn’t attracting today’s young families as it once did.


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  • johnsimoneau

    Mr. Sarno, the Catholic Church has no one to blame but themselves, for having just Old people attending. Remember that the Church, including many Popes, from Rome down to every parish priest covered up EVERYWHERE, the molestation of children, woman, and even their own Nuns. They also PROTECTED THE PRIESTS INVOLVED, by moving them to other States, and allowing them to abuse orhers.

    The Catholic Church will never recover, AND NEVER SHOULD.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2017 Report this

  • VoWarwick2017

    The fundamental problem with attendance is evidenced in the picture the Beacon used for the story. There is not one person in that picture under the age of 45!

    What does that say about the state of the Catholic Church? I disagree with johnsimoneau I don't believe it has anything to do with the scandals - and honestly to condemn the entire church by the actions of the few is very narrow minded.

    In order to draw families, young families, back to the Church there needs to be change. I am not talking about dogma or practice, I am talking about execution. You need priests that are not afraid to leave their offices and talk to people outside the church's four walls -- stop waiting for people to come to the church bring the church to the people. Services need to have some life to them, the music needs to progress beyond the dirges that you find in every Catholic Church. I am not saying they need to bring in rock bands and modern worship services -- leave that to the Southern Baptists. But they do need to arrange the music to be more upbeat and allow the Spirit to be enjoyed not depressed.... And the older folks need to deal with the fact that change is good for the church, pull out and running away to follow a Priest stuck in the old ways is the most un-Christian thing to do it is sad.

    It needs to be more that just approachability and upbeat music, it needs to be a supportive community that makes people want to be apart of it. For example - when a church family experiences a loss the church should rally around that family and quiet frankly I don't see that as a first response it is almost a guilt response when someone else steps up with the casserole. The priests should be the ones encouraging this togetherness and that will never happen if they stay so apart from their congregation. So to the priests I say, get out of your offices and off your thrones and mingle with the people as a human being.

    Thursday, February 16, 2017 Report this