Some parishioners felt blindsided by the announcement
By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN During a parish update presented at St. Martha’s Hall May 1, parishioners of the Delano Catholic Community received an update on a decree that will merge the Church of St. Joseph into the Church of St. Peter July 1.
All parishioners were invited and encouraged to attend an initial meeting that was set for May 1 to hear a financial update of the current state and how things have changed over the past three years, an action plan to make the parish financially sustainable, aggregate results of the parish survey, and look at where the parish goes from here.
Several hours prior to the meeting, church officials received notification from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis that Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, at the request of pastoral leadership, had given his blessing to “bring the communities together as one parish on July 1, 2014,” according to a letter from Nienstedt.
“We thought it would be prudent to share that information at the same time,” Delano Catholic Community Deacon Mike DeWitte said.
However, some parishioners felt blindsided by the merger information shared at the May 1 meeting.
“I was absolutely taken by surprise when I saw the handouts,” parishioner Wally Johnson, who attended the meeting, said. “Some were happy to hear this, and others were quite upset. Personally, I was upset because it blindsided us. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing but how it was done and the timing of it was absolutely horrid.”
Parishioner and former trustee Gary Zitzloff, who was also at the meeting, said people were upset they found out about the merger at that meeting.
“That’s not what the meeting was supposed to be about,” Zitzloff said. “It was all merger.”
Zitzloff said he, personally, is not opposed to the merger, but questions the urgency of it, especially with the present financial situation of the parish. He felt it would make more sense to work on the financial picture first, and then bring the merger into play.
DeWitte said the two churches have been merged administratively since the late 1980s, and said the Delano Catholic Community has operated with one priest and one combined staff since that time.
“The only piece that never got completed was the actual merging of the corporations,” DeWitte said.
DeWitte explained both church buildings will remain open, and both will maintain the same Mass and service schedule as in the past.
“This really doesn’t mean much to what people will see in town,” he said, adding the main intent of the merger is to streamline the accounting process, to put closure to the administrative merger, and bring unity to the faith community.
He said a new name for the corporation, which is yet to be determined, will likely be forthcoming.
“The churches will still remain the same,” DeWitte said. “It will still be the Church of St. Joseph and the Church of St. Peter.”
Two representatives from the archdiocese were present at the May 1 meeting to observe and answer questions about the archbishop’s decree that allows the merger to take place.
The Church of St. Joseph in Delano was established in 1902. In 1978, Archbishop John Roach formally recognized its status as a national parish, existing for all faithful of Polish heritage, according to the decree from Nienstedt. As such, it does not have territorial boundaries.
The Church of St. Peter in Delano was established in 1882, and is considered a parish of mixed status, in that it has been constituted with territorial boundaries, and also a national parish, existing for all faithful of German heritage, according to the decree.
In 2009, Nienstedt appointed a task force to make recommendations regarding personnel and resources within the archdiocese, according to the decree. This merger was originally proposed to the task force by priests of the deanery in 2010, on the basis the parishes were operating as a successful cluster for several years and share a pastor.
The task force formulated its own proposal in support of the merger for Nienstedt, who then proposed it to the Presbyteral Council Sept. 7 and Sept. 21, 2010, according to the decree.
“The merger was discussed, but withdrawn prior to a vote, due to existing financial complications that did not make the merger feasible at this time,” the decree stated.
Father Paul Kammen formally requested in writing to merge the parishes March 13, 2012, according to the decree, citing the support of the trustees, finance council, and pastoral council.
The merger was again proposed to the Presbyteral Council Sept. 11, 2012, which voted unanimously in favor of proceeding with the merger, according to the decree.
“The parish community effectively operates as one, and the parishioners share a united identity,” the decree stated.
Nienstedt decided July 1 is an appropriate time for the merger to take place.
“Father gave an outstanding homily over the weekend,” Johnson said. “He explained his intent to unify the churches. I think his motivation was well-founded in trying to merge, but we didn’t hear that until he spoke at the pulpit, and by then, people had already formed their opinions.”
The decree also stated the Polish and German ethnic identities originally designated for each parish are no longer apparent in the life of the community, and so assignment as a personal parish for those demographics is no longer necessary or applicable.
“With the merger, there will be no affiliation with either nationality, although the parish is welcome to retain and promote this honorary designation due to its rich history,” it was noted.
Johnson disagreed with this sentiment, and said there is still a sense of deep pride within some of the founding families of both churches.
According to the decree, all rights and obligations attached to the Church of St. Joseph shall be assumed by the Church of St. Peter. All assets and liabilities attached to the Church of St. Joseph shall transfer to the Church of St. Peter.
The Church of St. Peter shall continue to utilize both worship sites for the foreseeable future, according to the decree.
“If the time comes that the merged parish community, having fulfilled the canonical requirements, determines that one or more of the church buildings should be regulated to secular use and put up for sale, the proceeds from the sale of any parish property formerly belonging to the Church of St. Joseph of Delano will become the property of the Church of Saint Peter of Delano,” the decree stated.
Johnson felt that, unless people want this to happen, now is the time to jump in and show support so both church buildings can continue to operate as they have been.
“If they fall away from it, it is going to be a pre-destined failure,” he said.
The decree outlined a basic appeal process, noting interested parties have the right to challenge Nienstedt’s decision regarding the merger through the normal channels of hierarchal recourse. The process must begin with aggrieved parties requesting Nienstedt revokes or amends the decree.
“This request must be made in writing within 10 days of the notification of this decision,” the decree stated. The decree is dated May 1. It was stated any appeal process must begin by May 14.
The letter from Nienstedt encouraged parishioners to “see your parish bulletin and listen for specific announcements about upcoming engagement opportunities.”
“I would be hopeful more meetings will be conducted and an explanation provided,” Johnson said. “Communication is so critical.”
Editor’s note: Father Paul Kamman was contacted for comment, but is on vacation until May 16.