Questions and answers on parish mergers

My parish is merging with a nearby parish. Can’t we keep our present name since we are the larger of the two parishes in the merger?

In the intended mergers of parishes, one parish is not being absorbed by another. Rather, the merger, should it be established by decree, will create one new parish that will draw upon the traditions, resources and strengths of each parish involved in the merger. Because a new parish is created, and given the pastoral needs typically present when parishes are united, it is appropriate to give the new parish a new name. However, the church or churches that will serve the new parish retain their names in accord with church law (c. 1218).

Our Priest Convener has said that parishioners will be involved in recommending a new name for the parish.  Is this something that should be done before the merger is formally established by decree, or after?

The process of selecting a name for a new parish that is being created through merger occurs before the decree is issued, since the decree will contain the name of the new parish. Although the diocesan bishop makes the final decision on the naming of the new parish, Bishop Galante has asked Priest Conveners and Core Teams to involve parishioners in the process of developing recommendations for names.

What guidelines should parishioners follow when recommending names for the new parish?

The name of a new parish should be a title of Christ under a title already accepted in the liturgy or that speaks to a mystery in His life; the Blessed Virgin Mary under a title already accepted in the liturgy; the Trinity; the Holy Spirit; one of the angels; or a canonized saint. Given the range of acceptable options for parish names, parishioners are urged to recommend a name that is not currently in use in the diocese by another parish or institution.

Can we choose the name of a more recently canonized saint?

Yes.  Pope John Paul II, echoing a major theme of the Second Vatican Council, emphasized the importance of holiness in the Church and hoped to draw attention to men and women of every culture and walk of life who were models of holiness in their own lives.  During his pontificate, he canonized nearly 500 saints (for a list see www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/index_saints_en.html).

For saints names and biographies, see also www.catholic-pages.com/dir/feasts.asp, www.catholic.org/saints, or ww.americancatholic.org/Features/saints/patron.asp

Is there a process for involving parishioners in the naming of the new parish?

Yes. It is recommended that the Core Team name one or two of its members from each merging parish to form a naming committee. This committee ensures that the tasks are conducted equitably and in a timely manner, toward the end of their work of preparing the parishes to merge. Each suggested name must be accompanied by a short, concise rationale for the choice, feast day and signature.

The Core Team collects and collates the suggestions from all the merging parishes. They tally these and identify the ones that were named with the most frequency.  After considering the names, feast dates and rationale, all parishioners are invited to vote for three (3) choices. The cards are then collected and tallied during the ritual established for this purpose, and the top three names in the order of the number of votes are announced by the Priest Convener. The top three names, in the order of voting preference, are sent to the Bishop for his final decision.

Besides naming of the parish, what else occurs before a decree is issued?

In announcing his intentions for the reconfiguration of parishes in April 2008, Bishop Galante indicated that it would take 12-24 months before he would begin to issue decrees promulgating the proposed configurations. He did this to provide ample time for Priest Conveners and Core Team members to prepare parishes for merger. This work, which has been underway since Priest Conveners and Core Team members were commissioned last October, includes:

• Preparation for worship: mass schedules, sacraments, music ministry, RCIA, communion to the sick and homebound; development of the parish mission statement

• Preparation for pastoral ministries that address pastoral priorities:  lifelong faith formation, youth and young adults, compassionate outreach, lay ministry, vocations and liturgy.

• Provision for the care of temporal goods: cemeteries, facilities and property management, financial services, human resources, information technology, utility service, maintenance and support;

• Preparation for the new parish’s financial needs: bank accounts and tax records, accounting, budgets, payroll.

• Opportunities for the faithful to come together for worship, prayer and other activities that establish bonds of unity and collaboration.

Once preparations are completed, the Priest Convener notifies Bishop Galante of the parishes’ readiness to merge.  An on-site meeting by the Diocesan Merger Review Committee is then scheduled, at which time the committee members carefully evaluate the preparation steps taken. If preparations have been undertaken satisfactorily, the Diocesan Merger Review Committee notifies the diocesan Chancellor of this fact. The Chancellor then completes the final civil and canonical steps. Once this has occurred, Bishop Galante will issue the formal decree establishing the new parish.

What is contained in the decree?

The decree provides the reasons for consolidating individual parish communities and uniting them as one new parish. The decree identifies the seat and the name of the new parish, other worship sites that may serve the new parish, and the territorial boundaries of the new parish. The decree also gives the name of the pastor and his term.  The decree also states that both the assets and liabilities of the parishes follow the faithful to the new parish.    Finally, the decree specifies the effective date for the creation of the new parish.  Each decree is published in the Catholic Star Herald, the diocesan website and is communicated to the parishioners of the new parish at weekend masses.

Can a decree be appealed?

Yes.  Church law provides the opportunity for those claiming to be aggrieved by a decree to seek recourse in accord with the Code of Canon Law.  Accompanying each decree are published 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.

How many decrees have been issued since Bishop Galante announced his intentions for the reconfiguration of parishes in the diocese?

Five decrees have been issued since June in the diocesan-wide reconfiguration of parishes that is intended to strengthen parishes and to address pressing challenges, including a decline in the number of diocesan priests available for ministry, shifts and changes in population, a decline in religious practice and the resulting financial struggles brought on by these factors. As presently configured, many parishes lack the resources to provide needed ministries.

The reconfiguration of parishes in the diocese, then, is but one element of the larger initiative undertaken to revitalize parish life and ready parishes to address key pastoral priorities identified by the Catholic people at Speak Up sessions and to help form Catholics more deeply in the faith, thereby reversing downward trends and leading the Church to future growth and new life.

Editor’s note: For more questions and answers about parish planning, go to www.gatheringgodsgifts.org

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