February 12, 2016

Parishioners, pastoral leaders reflect on challenges to merging parishes

Father Daniel Staublin and Deacon Michael East attend a Feb. 4 press conference at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus in which Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin announced decisions regarding the Connected in the Spirit planning process for the Bloomington, Connersville and Seymour deaneries. Father Staublin is pastor of Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown and St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour. Deacon East ministers at both of the Seymour deanery faith communities. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Daniel Staublin and Deacon Michael East attend a Feb. 4 press conference at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus in which Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin announced decisions regarding the Connected in the Spirit planning process for the Bloomington, Connersville and Seymour deaneries. Father Staublin is pastor of Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown and St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour. Deacon East ministers at both of the Seymour deanery faith communities. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

COLUMBUS—Phil and Clare Bradshaw have been members of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Knightstown for 34 years. It was in this Connersville Deanery faith community that they raised their five children.

Phil participated in the Connected in the Spirit planning process, which resulted in Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin deciding to merge St. Rose Parish with St. Anne Parish in New Castle.

“I kind of expected this, because that was the proposal that we had made,” he said. “I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be [accepted]. The thing that has gotten us through it is them [archdiocesan leaders] saying that we can continue as a weekly worship site.”

Phil was a member of a cohort group made up of members of various Connersville Deanery parishes and its pastoral leaders.

In deciding to merge St. Rose with St. Anne, Archbishop Tobin allowed for the continued use of the churches of both faith communities “if necessary.”

Archbishop Tobin announced his decisions regarding 31 parishes in the Bloomington, Connersville and Seymour deaneries on Feb. 4 at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus.

His decisions will be effective on July 1.

Clare Bradshaw said the coming months will be a time of seeking the presence of God in the midst of the sadness of knowing her parish will be closed and merged.

“It’s the mission of all of us to seek him out, no matter where we have to go to do that,” she said. “It’s nice to have it in a place that we’re comfortable with. But change can be good, too. We’ll try to keep praying and keep a positive attitude about it.”

Deacon Russell Woodard has served as the parish life coordinator of St. Anne and St. Rose, both in Henry County, since 2010. He knows well the difficulty of the decision regarding the Knightstown faith community.

“There’s a lot to work through. And part of that is grieving,” he said. “We have to grieve what we’re losing.

“At the same time, the Gospel has to be proclaimed. And the Gospel is good news. We can’t forget that. We have to take that Gospel out to the people in our community. Sixty-one percent of the people who live in our county claim no church affiliation. There’s definitely a mission field out there that we need to figure out how we’re going to address.”

Linda Jackson and Becky Bujwid, both members of Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown, were in attendance on Feb. 4 in Columbus when Archbishop Tobin announced that their faith community would be merged into St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour.

He also announced that St. Ambrose Parish may choose to maintain Our Lady of Brownstown Church as a worship site, “subject to a triennial evaluation by the archdiocese.”

“It’s like losing your family,” Bujwid said. “We’re so small, and we help each other through thick and thin.”

Jackson said that her faith will help her cope with the decision to merge her faith community, which she has found difficult to accept.

“My faith is strong,” she said. “I keep trying to tell myself that God has a plan. And it’s not always ours. So, I’ve just got to keep my faith and keep going.”

Father Daniel Staublin has served as pastor of Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown and St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour for six years.

In the coming months, he will seek to care for the pastoral needs of the members of Our Lady of Providence, which will be merged into St. Ambrose.

“Hopefully, they know me well enough to know that I am there to listen and to help and to support them,” he said. “They’re still sheep of the flock, whether they’re at Our Lady of Providence or at St. Ambrose.

“Hopefully, they’ll know that, when we work together guided by the Spirit, good things will happen—things that we didn’t even foresee at the time, new life, new growth, new endeavors. But, as with any transition, there is pain dealing with the change. We’ll do it together.”

People involved in the Connected in the Spirit process, such as Providence Sister Constance Kramer and Dan Krodel, are available to members of parishes affected by the decisions related to the planning process made by Archbishop Tobin, especially those that will be merged.

The experience of the three parishes in Richmond—Holy Family, St. Andrew and St. Mary—might be helpful since they have been working closely together and sharing a priest for more than 20 years.

Included among the announcements that Archbishop Tobin made on Feb. 4 was that the three Richmond parishes will be combined into one and given a new name. At the same time, its three churches will remain in use, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School and Seton Catholic High School will be unaffected by the decision related to the parishes.

Father Kevin Morris has served since 2012 as pastor of the three parishes, which have been known for many years as the Richmond Catholic Community. Previously, he served as associate pastor there from 1997-99.

“I think we’ve been heading in this direction for so long that the decision comes as no surprise to anyone,” said Father Morris. “We’ve been merging almost everything into one for some time. This decision just makes it official.”

He encouraged members of the Knightstown and Brownstown parishes to have patience in the coming months as they prepare for the merger of their faith communities into neighboring ones.

“You will find your way as long as no one insists on my way as the only way,” Father Morris said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to start new traditions for a new community.

“It is important to remember that while we don’t always agree on everything with the person sitting in the pew with us anyway, what we do agree on is we are all Catholics trying to find our way to heaven. If we have patience and an open mind, we’ll probably find the new community is a little slice of heaven already in our lives.” †

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