Diocesan response to St. Mary’s, Malaga, protest

On Jan. 3 a group entered the church of St. Mary’s, Malaga, apparently conducting a vigil to protest plans to merge that parish with two others to form a new parish to be called Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.

Some background:

In April, 2008, Bishop Galante announced plans to merge parishes in the diocese in response to pastoral ministry priorities that emerged from listening sessions held throughout South Jersey. The goal of the consolidations has been to create more vibrant parishes with the resources, both in personnel and finances, to galvanize areas such as youth ministry, adult faith formation and compassionate outreach to the poor.

So far, 30 parish mergers involving 74 parishes have been completed. Eight additional mergers, involving 18 parishes, are also nearing completion.

St. Mary’s is among those parishes to be merged.

Since that particular merger has generated public interest, the diocese would like to address some of the concerns that have been raised:

St. Mary’s Church was closed in November after its Board of Trustees voted to discontinue use of the church building. The precipitating incident was a broken boiler, and the board decided not to invest in a new heating system.

At that time, Father Edward F. Namiotka, pastor, sent a letter to parishioners noting St. Mary’s low Mass attendance (less than 200 a weekend) and $250,000 debt. The letter explained that the services offered at St. Mary’s would continue at the two nearby parishes with which they would be merged.

Some press statements indicate that the diocese is hoarding money donated by a deceased parishioner for St. Mary’s. This is not the case.

Theresa DiMatteo generously left the residue of her estate to the parish upon her death in 2005. However, her will expressly indicated that the money be used to build a new church, or, if a new church was not built within 10 years of her death, to renovate the existing church. There never was an official plan to build a new church. The Superior Court put the money in escrow with the Surrogate of Gloucester County since it was uncertain during the consolidation process whether the church building would be used as a worship site.

Bishop Galante met with parishioners of St. Mary Malaga on several occasions throughout the consolidation process. He informed them that the decision to merge St. Mary’s still stands.

In summary: The merger process of forming a new parish will continue. There is no intention of re-opening the St. Mary’s church building. Our efforts and prayers are now focused on building up the new community of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish.

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