Bishop Galante issues decree establishing Infant Jesus Parish in Woodbury Heights

Bishop Joseph Galante formally announced today that the parishes of Saint Margaret, Woodbury Heights, and Saint John Vianney, Deptford, will merge and the new parish resulting from the merger, Infant Jesus Parish, will be established January 13, 2010.

The announcement establishing the new parish was made in a formal decree, which is published in this edition of the Catholic Star Herald (see p. 15).

It is the eighth decree issued by Bishop Galante in a diocesan-wide reconfiguration of parishes announced in April 2008.

Following extensive study and consultation, Bishop Galante in April 2008 announced his intention to restructure parishes through merger and clustering in order to address a decline in the number of diocesan priests available for ministry, shifts and changes in population, a decline in religious practice, the need to revitalize parish life and to advance pastoral priorities identified as most important by the people of the diocese. Many parishes also are struggling financially due to the changes in population and decline in Mass attendance and lack the resources to provide needed ministries.

The decree establishing Infant Jesus Parish states that consolidating the individual communities and uniting them as one new parish is necessary to provide more effectively for the pastoral needs of the faithful, to assure the vitality of parish life, to provide for a better stewardship of resources, and to provide for the optimum use of clergy, religious and lay personnel.

Accompanying the decree are instructions on the recourse process provided for in Church law to ensure that the rights of the faithful are upheld in the alteration of a parish.

Reverend Joseph T. Szolack, the current pastor of St. Margaret Parish and Priest Convener for the merger, has been named pastor of the new parish, which will serve about 3,300 families. The seat of the parish will be Saint Margaret Church and the parish boundaries have been modified such that the combined territories are now contiguous. Saint John Vianney Church also will be used as a worship site as needed by the new parish.

“People from both parishes have been very cooperative,” said Father Szolack. He cited the contributions of Father Byerly, pastor of St. John Vianney, and Core Team members. “Father Byerly was very important to the success of the process. He really emphasized the reality that each parish is part of the larger Church and we sometimes must take difficult steps to do what is necessary for the good of the diocese.”

“We also had an exceptional Core Team. Each person had great vision and loyalty to the Church and to the faith. They all understood that we were building the foundation for a new parish. Yet, they all brought different perspectives and expertise to the process and were very helpful. We challenged and affirmed each other as we worked together to prepare the parishes to come together.”

While the Core Team was preparing the parishes for merger, the two parishes began to come together for liturgy, including Divine Mercy, a Parish Mission and the Feast of Saint John Vianney. They also united socially for parish events, including the St. Margaret Carnival and pancake breakfasts.

Saint Margaret Parish was established in 1961, as population growth began to exceed the capacity of St. Patrick’s in Woodbury. The parish elementary school opened in 1963 and a parish hall was completed that same year. Mass was celebrated there until a new church was dedicated in 1978. Saint John Vianney Church was built in 1939, serving St. Agnes Parish until Saint John Vianney Parish, formerly a mission of St. Teresa, Runnemede, was established in 1971.

Father Szolack, who grew up in nearby Woodbury, is hopeful about the future. “The planning process—including the last year of preparation for merger—gave us a real opportunity to evaluate how we’re doing things, what works well and what we need to do to improve ministry and care to the people here. The process, even though it has required great effort and time, has been a positive impetus and a prelude to a better future,” he said.

He said the new parish soon will address staffing issues related to the pastoral priority of lifelong faith formation. “We’re going to focus on our religious education program to broaden it to include not just youth, but also young adults—who often do not receive adequate attention and resources, and adult education, with opportunities for all ages to grow in the spiritual life.” The parish also will put a heavy emphasis on fostering vocations to priesthood and religious life, he said.

Merger preparations for Infant Jesus parish began on November 4, 2008 when the Core Team met for the first time with their Priest Convener, Father Szolack. The Core Team members were Jeff Heck, Mark Cipolone, Neen Raspa, Patricia DiBona, Tammy Gatto, Alice Bailey, Karen Walters and Brian Fleming.

Over the next nine months, the team met fourteen times to tend to the range of canonical, civil, administrative and pastoral considerations involved in merger, including setting new Mass and sacrament schedules, addressing staffing needs, tending to transition issues related to accounting and finance, establishing new pastoral and finance councils and developing a parish mission statement.

They also engaged the parishes in a variety of joint liturgies and community building activities, including a week long Lenten Mission, Divine Mercy Sunday and the Feast of St. John Vianney. On that feast day, Mass was followed by a lawn social at St. John Vianney. Parishioners also joined together to support the “Love to Serve” initiative at St. Margaret’s School, the annual spring fashion show, and the Knights of Columbus monthly breakfasts.

On August 26, 2009, Father Szolack wrote to Bishop Galante to inform him that the Core Team had completed its merger preparations. Six diocesan reviewers from canonical affairs, liturgy, lifelong formation, temporalities, clergy and pastoral planning conducted an onsite visit on October 27, 2009 and affirmed the work of the Core Team.

Core Team member and Saint John Vianney parishioner Patricia DiBona said, “It was a challenging process, but everyone understood the need. The planning process, the guidance and the rationale given really brought about a better understanding of why this is needed and helped to alleviate the fear of change. We now have the possibility of broadening our ministry, improving our outreach, drawing people into ministry and parish life, and addressing the Gospel call to alleviate suffering of people in the area. This is an exciting thing.”

Core Team member and Saint Margaret parishioner Mark Cipolone said, “Initially there was some uncertainty as to how this would all work. But, when we finally met, we really worked well together and it was worth all the work. Now, parishioners are accepting and looking to moving forward.”

He said joining the parishes together would bring greater financial health, but also an influx of parishioners to Mass and into parish ministries. “Even forgetting finances for a minute, we’ll be able to do more with ministries. This is something we have to do if we’re going to get people to come back to Church.”

He acknowledged that at some level he wished that things could stay the same, but knows that the merger is necessary. “Given the realities, we have to do it. Something has to be done. We have to get people to come back. That’s my hope.”

Categories: Latest News

About Author