By Linda Scherer
GLENCOE, SILVER LAKE, WINSTED, MN Area faith communities have been a reality of the New Ulm Diocese for a number of years, but for the parishes of Holy Trinity of Winsted, St. Pius X of Glencoe, and Holy Family of Silver Lake, combining their three parishes and schools into one faith community is still a fairly new concept and definitely a plan in progress.
“If we had a blueprint, it would be a lot easier,” Holy Trinity Parish Priest Fr. Tony Hesse said. “But what works for one area faith community may not work for another.”
The New Ulm Diocese has defined an area faith community as being comprised of two or more parishes, small parishes or oratories entrusted to the care of one pastor, with a pastoral staff or pastoral leader, who work together to carry out the ministries in the area.
Winsted, Glencoe, and Silver Lake have been designated by the New Ulm Diocese as one of four area faith communities in the Diocese’s sixth region.
The 2011 parish plan for the diocese’s six regions has a total of 23 area faith communities. A number of those faith communities have already been implemented.
Initially, the New Ulm Diocese presented the restructuring plan in 2003 because of a decrease in the number of active priests, the shifting of the residential population, and the aging of a large number of those who made up the Sunday congregation, according to the June 2005 Prairie Catholic.
“I think what the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is experiencing now is what we have been experiencing the last 20 or 30 years in our diocese,” Hesse said. “We have a lot fewer priests than we had 20 years ago, and we will have a lot less in the next couple of years. So we have to decide how best to share our ministries.”
The final goal for the faith community will be one pastor for the Winsted, Glencoe, and Silver Lake Catholic churches, but Hesse said there hasn’t been any talk of that happening in the near future.
Currently, Hesse is pastor of Holy Trinity, Fr. Tony Subeda is pastor of St. Pius X and Holy Family, and Holy Family also has an associate pastor, Fr. Patrick Okonkwo.
Besides combining the parishes, the area faith community of Winsted, Glencoe, and Silver Lake must work to combine their schools into one area school.
Holy Trinity School offers preschool through 12th grade, St. Pius X has preschool through sixth grade, and Silver Lake has preschool through fourth grade.
“We have talked about one school being elementary, another being a middle school, and another a high school, but nothing has been decided,” Hesse said.
For now, most of the discussion has been how to best utilize the resources of the three schools to offer students the best and most affordable Catholic education.
One resource the faith community has shared for the past three years is an elementary principal.
In addition to being Holy Trinity Elementary School principal, Cathy Millerbernd was principal at Holy Family for two years, and this year, 2010-11, she is principal at Holy Trinity and St. Pius X.
To be principal of two schools at two different locations requires scheduling, plus Millerbernd is always available by cell phone and e-mail.
The schools are also sharing textbooks, classroom supplies, field trips, and busing costs. The long-term goal is to find ways the schools can collaborate in all areas, from staff to purchasing.
Meeting locations for the three parishes and schools are on a rotating schedule for location, as well as running two meetings back-to-back. First, the individual parishes hold their committee meetings, which is followed by a joint meeting of the faith community.
“Eventually, we might go to just one meeting for each committee, and there might be sub-committees,” Hesse said.
Holy Trinity, St. Pius X, and Holy Family have not come up with a name for their area faith community as yet.
“There are some area faith communities that do have a name, but we are still discussing it,” Hesse said. “There has been some discussion of staying with the Area Faith Community of St. Pius X, Holy Family, and Holy Trinity.”
If the diocese asks the parishes to come up with a unique name for their faith community, Hesse said it is something they will do in the future.
Although the diocese is overseeing the development of the different faith communities, it is letting each of the parishes come up with its own plan.
“Our current bishop has no plans of closing churches, and it is being left up to the people if their church will become an oratory,” Hesse said.
An oratory serves as a chapel. A Sunday Mass is no longer celebrated in the church building, and former parishioners must join a new parish. The oratory can be used for prayer, a weekday Mass, education, other services, and social activities.
Background on area faith communities
Thomas Keaveny, director of pastoral planning for the Diocese of New Ulm, said the diocese has been involved in a pro-active pastoral planning process for more than 20 years.
Bishop Raymond A. Lucker initiated the effort in conjunction with the unprecedented population decline in small rural communities, and other demographic changes unfolding in southwest Minnesota, Keaveny said.
Bishop John C. Nienstedt continued the nationally recognized pastoral planning process as he provided direction for the Diocese of New Ulm’s third plan for parishes.
Bishop John M. LeVoir is now developing the Diocese of New Ulm’s fourth plan for parishes, according to Keaveny.
“In all of these planning efforts, the preservation of small rural parishes as part of area faith communities supporting Catholic schools, and the worship traditions and patterns of the Catholic faithful in the Diocese of New Ulm, has been core and central,” Keaveny said.
“None of these plans have been involved with closing of parishes or schools. Rather, these decisions are embraced and recommended by the parishes and area faith communities directly involved.”