Wildwood parishes unite as Notre Dame de la Mer Parish

Bishop Joseph Galante formally announced today that the parishes of St. Ann, Wildwood and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Wildwood Crest, will merge and the new parish resulting from the merger, Notre Dame de la Mer, will be established February 17, 2010.

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

The decree 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.

Reverend Michael J. Field, Reverend Joseph D. Wallace—who were Co-Conveners of the Core Team —and Reverend Gustavo Agudelo will serve as a priest team, with Father Field serving as moderator. Under a priest team, several priests serve “in solidum”—that is, they work as one in a team—in order to serve a parish community or communities. The moderator of the team directs the overall pastoral care and is responsible to the bishop.

The new parish, whose boundaries will be those of the existing parishes, will serve about 2,100 families. The seat of the parish will be Saint Ann Church, while Assumption Church will be maintained as a worship site as needed by the merged community.

It is the ninth decree issued by Bishop Galante in a diocesan-wide reconfiguration of parishes announced for the six counties of the diocese in April 2008. The reconfiguration is designed to strengthen parishes, to revitalize parish life by advancing major pastoral priorities identified at Speak Up sessions, to improve spiritual care to parishioners by providing needed ministries, and to reverse downward trends in Mass attendance and sacramental practice.

The reconfiguration also seeks to address the challenges of changing demographics, a decline in weekly Mass attendance and religious practice, and a decline in the number of diocesan priests available to serve in ministry.

Reconfiguration followed study and consultation

Bishop Galante’s April 2008 intention to merge the parishes in the Wildwoods followed a period of study and consultation with deanery planners, the priest dean, the Diocesan Planning Commission and the Presbyteral Council of the diocese who concluded that the individual parishes could be made stronger if they were united.

Parishioners from both parishes were represented on the Core Team that formed last fall to prepare the parishes to come together: Kathleen Crean, George Miller, Joseph Tighe, and Sharon Cannon, from St. Ann’s; Joseph Visalli, Stephen Morey, Carmen Bersani, and Annette Mussachio, from Assumption.

The Core Team members met for the first time in November 2008. Fifteen times over ten months, they met to tend to the necessary administrative, pastoral, canonical and civil preparations for merger. After their last meeting in September, the priest co-conveners wrote to Bishop Galante indicating that the Core Team had completed its work and requesting an onsite evaluation by the Diocesan Merger Review Committee. On November 4, 2009 the Diocesan Merger Review Committee confirmed the parishes’ readiness to merge.

A future of hope and promise

“We’re really excited about the great possibilities for Notre Dame de la Mer. These communities have been very affirming to me and to Father Wallace and they have worked very hard at coming together. The community of the Wildwoods is wonderful and welcoming, and the hospitality has been second to none. We are all blessed to be amongst this community as it gives birth to Notre Dame de la Mer,” said Father Field.

Father Field said he is looking forward with the priest team to collaborating with parishioners to build a community that recognizes the gifts, talents, and qualities of each person. “We want to welcome and embrace all God’s people, as is noted in our mission statement. We want good liturgy, ministry to youth and to seniors. We want the new parish to become a center of worship, of community, of culture and social justice, a Church trying always to follow Jesus.”

“It’s a very exciting time for the entire Catholic community in the Wildwoods,” said Father Joseph Wallace, co-convener. “Now as one family we’ll be able to reach out to all generations, from youth to seniors, with new opportunities for ministry, learning and community building.”

Core Team member George Miller said, “We realized the merger was inevitable because of demographics and other factors. But we also now have an opportunity, with the priests we’ve been blessed with, to create something new, vibrant, spiritual and good overall for the community, with more ministries, and more outreach.” Miller, who has been attending St. Ann’s for 18 years both as a year-round resident and summer visitor said, “We’ve got a growing senior population, but we also hope to get more families involved in the Church.”

Core Team member Annette Mussachio, who has been an Assumption parishioner for four decades said, “It’s been a long process and has involved many hours to bring this merger to fruition. But thanks to the great work of Father Field and Wallace and our Core Team, we found that, despite all of the challenges, anything is possible with Jesus.”

She said Father Field focused the Core Team on the task at hand with a positive approach. “He enabled us to accomplish a beautiful end, an end that is also a new beginning. Now the Catholic community of the Wildwoods is looking forward to the future with hope and promise.”

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