Bishop Galante issues decrees establishing merged parishes in Berlin and Pennsauken

The formation of parishes in Berlin and Pennsauken, both created through the merger of existing parishes.

— Saint Simon Stock parish will be established through the merger of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Berlin and Saint Edward Parish, Pine Hill. The seat of the new parish will be Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Berlin. Reverend Joseph R. Ferrara, the current pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Priest Convener for the merger, has been named pastor of the new parish. The new parish, which will retain existing boundaries, will serve approximately 3,900 families.

— Mary, Queen of All Saints parish will be established through the merger of Saint Veronica, Delair and Saint Cecilia, Pennsauken, with the seat of the new parish at St. Cecilia Church, Pennsauken. Reverend William F. Moore, the current pastor of Saint Cecilia and St. Veronica and Priest Convener for the merger, has been named pastor of the new parish. The new parish, which will retain existing boundaries, will serve almost 1,000 families.

The announcements establishing the new parishes were made in formal decrees, both of which are published in this edition of the Catholic Star Herald (see pages 15 and 17). The effective date of both decrees is November 4, 2009.

The decrees state that consolidating the individual communities and uniting them as new parishes 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.

The decrees, which follow almost a year of extensive preparation by Core Team members, note that the parishes “have worked together to provide a common base from their diverse experiences,” and “have grown and matured as they have come to see that the new combined community of faith will best serve their area of the diocese.”

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

Reconfiguration addresses challenges

Five decrees have been issued now in a diocesan-wide reconfiguration of parishes that Bishop Galante announced in April 2008 to address a decline in the number of diocesan priests available for ministry, shifts and changes in population, a decline in religious practice and the need to revitalize parish life.

Many parishes also are struggling financially due to the changes in population and decline in Mass attendance and, as presently configured, lack the resources to provide needed ministries. About a third of the parishes in the diocese are struggling with deficits and debt and are unable to meet basic financial obligations, according to the diocese. By uniting parishes through merger, the diocese hopes to create stronger parishes that will have greater resources with which to serve parishioners.

Fresh enthusiasm for the faith

The planning initiatives of the diocese respond to the call of Pope John Paul II at the close of the Jubilee Year when he called on each diocese to assess its fervor and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities. He called on dioceses to draw up a detailed pastoral plan for the “formation and enrichment of the people involved [and to] search for the necessary resources which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.” Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI, meeting with the Bishops of Nigeria also stressed the importance of training and diocesan planning in order to create strong, vibrant parishes.

Reconfiguration is one element of planning initiative

The reconfiguration of parishes in the diocese is but one element of the larger initiative undertaken in response to these calls to revitalize parish life. Larry Farmer of the diocese’s Office of Pastoral Planning, said, “By necessity have been focused on parish reconfiguration at this stage of the process. However, we must not forget the larger context in which this important work is taking place. This diocese, like many others, has experienced great challenges brought on by decades-long demographic change, fewer priests and declines in participation in may areas of parish life. In addition to these challenges, the Speak Ups conducted by Bishop Galante soon after his installation here revealed unmet pastoral needs in the diocese. With many parishes lacking the means to serve these needs, it was soon clear that the pastoral priorities could not adequately be addressed without first strengthening our parishes and preparing lay people to assume their baptismal responsibility for the life and mission of the Church. Our parishes, once strengthened through reconfiguration, will be ready to carry out the kinds of ministries and services that will help form Catholics more deeply in the faith, thereby reversing downward trends and leading the Church to future growth and new life.”

Forming laity to help serve parishes

In conjunction with the parish reconfiguration now underway, the diocese last year inaugurated its Lay Ministry Formation Program to help laity engaged in parish work to obtain the educational credentials specific to their area of focus. Almost 300 Catholics in South Jersey are now enrolled in the degree and certificate programs of area Catholic colleges and institutions offered at satellite locations throughout the diocese (see related story, page 12).

“This initiative will create a wonderful pool of talented laypeople that our parishes will be able to draw from as they seek to augment their volunteer staffs with full-time and part-time paid positions in order to devote significant attention to the pastoral priorities that will serve Catholics of every age in every part of the diocese,” said Sr. Roseann Quinn, SSJ, Bishop’s delegate for Lifelong Faith Formation.

Pouring new wine into new wine skins

“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” said Father Ferrara of the work of preparing the parishes in Berlin and Pine Hill to come together. “Our theme and approach has been that we’re pouring new wine into new wineskins. We are celebrating something new. While we have the customs and traditions of both parishes to draw from, we’ve worked together to take parish life to a new level and to grow spiritually.”

The naming of the new parish drew from the traditions of both parishes. The Berlin parish was established at the turn of the last century under the name Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of the Carmelite order. The Pine Hill parish was established in 1953, named for its patron St. Edward the Confessor. The new parish created through the merger, Saint Simon Stock, is named for the 13th century English who received the brown scapular from Our Lady of Mount Carmel and advanced the Carmelite charism in England, where Edward the Confessor was born.

The new parish—one of the first in the diocese to establish a lifelong faith formation program—is already taking steps to serve the needs of parishioners. The parish already has in place full-time paid positions including youth, music and adult faith formation.

“By uniting the parishes together, we now have a chance to put into practice the ideals of our faith, and addressing key pastoral priorities, including forming our people more deeply in the faith,” said Father Ferrara.

Core Team member Anthony Ziccardi, who joined Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in 1971, said, “As we grew through the process, we melded multiple agendas into one to create the best community of faith that we could. We absolutely relied on the history and heritages of both places, carrying forth ministries from both parishes. We also developed almost a dozen new ministries, with attention to faith formation and outreach. This is one of the great results of our work.”

Blessings and gains

St. Cecilia was established in 1939, one of the first parishes created by Bishop Eustace after the diocese was established in 1937. A year later, St. Veronica was established as a mission of St. Cecilia, until it was named a parish in 1961.

With two female saints as patronesses, parishioners saw the opportunity to include them both by placing the new parish under the name of Mary, Queen of All Saints.

Julia Wakelee, a parishioner of St. Cecilia since 1980 and Core Team member, said, “It was a lot of work for the Core Team, but we worked well together and we’re proud of the job we did.”

She said she’s excited about the new parish. “It’s been nice to get together to meet other Catholics. Now we’re one big family. The process really helped me see that it’s not the church buildings that are most important, but the people, who are your family and who are the Church. Most of all, we have the Word of God and the Eucharist. By bringing parishes together, we bring together the best of both, while our faith unites us and helps us in this challenging time.”

Father Moore said the work of uniting the parishes took patience and time. “Understandably it’s been a time of mixed feelings during the process of the last eleven months. We used the time of transition to be sensitive to one another, to be in touch with feelings of loss that come with such change, but also to anticipate the blessings and gains that we can achieve as we look to the future.

There’s an excitement and a freshness that challenges us to be more creative about what a parish can accomplish, especially in light of being good stewards of the gifts and blessings we can best use for Mary, Queen of All Saints parish and the wider community in Pennsauken. It gives us a broader feel for mission in the Church and has great potential to keep us moving forward in the direction of where a parish can best reflect the mind and heart of Christ in everyday life.”

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