Bishop Joseph Galante formally announced today that two new parishes will be established on Dec. 1 through the consolidation of six existing parishes.
The announcement establishing the new parishes was made in two formal decrees, which are published in this edition of the Catholic Star Herald (see pages 16-19).
• St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish will be established through the consolidation of Corpus Christi, Carneys Point, Queen of the Apostles, Pennsville, St. James, Penns Grove, and St. Mary, Salem. The seat of the new parish will be located at Corpus Christi Church. Queen of the Apostles and St. Mary also will be used as worship sites for the new parish. Father Paul Harte, Priest Convener for the consolidation, has been named pastor of the new parish for a six-year term.
St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish will retain the boundaries of the three existing parishes, and will serve about 1,825 families in Salem County.
• The Parish of All Saints will be established through the merger of St. John Bosco Parish and St. Mary Magdalen Parish, both in Millville. The seat of the new parish will be St. Mary Magdalen Church.
Father Paul Olszewski, Priest Convener for the consolidation, has been named pastor of the new parish for a six-year term.
The parish of All Saints, whose boundaries will be those of the existing parishes, will serve about 1,350 families in Cumberland County.
Opportunity Comes Forth from the Challenges
Father Paul Harte, Priest Convener for the parish consolidations in Salem County, acknowledged that disagreement was overcome by cooperative spirit and perseverance in accomplishing the diverse tasks.
Father Harte said, “We came together in prayer in order to help nurture our identity as a team and to create an atmosphere for building trust and care for each other as individuals. Our discussions enabled us to express our diversity of experiences, needs and expectations for this merger. I became a witness to the personal goodness of the Core Team members and many others in the parishes, their fidelity to the faith, their willingness to take ownership of an expanding vision for our new parish.”
“Representatives from four merging parishes came together and through prayer and reflection — and lots of disagreements — managed to agree on what was best for the parish of St. Gabriel the Archangel,” added Mercina Gant, Core Team Member from St. Mary Parish in Salem.
A Core Team member from Queen of the Apostles, William Federowic, said, “I don’t believe any of the members of the Core Team could ever imagine the journey we were about to embark on a few years ago. But after plenty of hard work and perseverance the light at the end of the tunnel appeared.”
Father Harte expressed the expectation that with the creation of Saint Gabriel the Archangel Parish, more than 174 square miles of small towns, farms and orchards, businesses and industry, homesteads and places familiar and unexplored will bear a new mark of identity as a Catholic community within the Diocese of Camden.
Scott Greenwald, who served on the Core Team from Corpus Christi Parish, echoed Father Harte’s optimism in saying that he was grateful for having had the opportunity to answer the call of the Holy Spirit to help create a “new” parish. “I am so excited to see all of the possibilities this merger presents to us,” he said.
Said Arthur Clemente, Core Team member from St. James Parish, “As a Core Team member, I felt from the very beginning that the merger of our four parishes was not the demise of our individual identities but rather a strengthening of our common inheritance as Catholics. I feel we have accomplished much over these two years of working together as members of the Core Team.”
Ken Brown, also serving on the Core Team from St. James Parish, which will close in the reconfiguration, summed up the feelings of many, “We can now begin the healing process with all members who felt a great loss in the merging of the parishes, and embark on a new beginning of our Catholic lives in Salem County.”
Willingness to Grow
Interaction in the ministries and prayer early in the merger process helped transcend the perceived differences between the parishes and allowed the parishioners of St. John Bosco and St. Mary Magdalene to see the beginnings of the new parish family, according to Father Paul Olszewski, who served as the priest convener for the merger. Margie Rowe, a Core Team member from St. John Bosco, believes that the best of both parishes combined will help them grow into one more active and faith-filled parish community. “Initially it was sad listening to the concerns of parish members, but I always felt in my heart a true sense of excitement as the Core Team worked together on plans to make us a more vibrant, new parish,” she said. Added Donna Terry, Core Team member from St. Mary Magdalene, “Working on the merger taught me a lot about understanding and respect and just what it means to be a thriving parish. This experience has enabled us to see the ‘big picture’ and have the ability to reach the goals planned for our future.”
Father Olszewski said that he is thankful to everyone who helped prepare for the merger and reflected on the experience. He said, “As a priest convener, the merging process is not just about overseeing the changes needed, but allowing yourself with the Core Team and the Faithful to bring forth the change and the ideas for growth. All the listening, praying, and reevaluating has helped me to be a better priest and it is my hope that it will make our new parish vibrant.”
Responding to the Needs of the People
“I am so encouraged by the dedicated work of our clergy, religious and laity in all of these parishes who have come together in a common mission to strengthen these parish communities for the sake of the faithful in South Jersey. This points to a most hopeful future for our church,” said Bishop Joseph Galante as he issued the 29th and 30th decrees since June 2009.
The two most recent decrees are part of the diocesan-wide reconfiguration of parishes announced over two years ago to strengthen parishes and to address the priorities expressed by the people at “Speak Up” sessions that were held with Bishop Galante in 2005 and 2006. The priorities identified included the need to engage laity more actively in parish ministry, more opportunities for faith formation for all age groups, expanded ministry to youth and young adults, the fostering of vocations to priesthood and religious life, well-celebrated liturgies, and compassionate outreach to inactive Catholics and those in need throughout the diocese.
Diocese Addresses Challenges
Many parishes 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 provide pastoral care to the people.
In conjunction with the parish reconfiguration process, additional efforts are underway to more effectively respond to the needs of parishioners. In January 2009, the diocese instituted the Lay Ministry Formation Program, an initiative formed in partnership with nationally recognized institutions to educate laity in parish ministry. On September 18, 2010, over 400 clergy and lay leaders from around the diocese gathered at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown to hear about a process which will bring diocesan and parish resources together to do more effective planning and implementation of the Pastoral Priorities.
Editor’s note: For more information about the Lay Ministry Formation Program, see http://lmfp.camdendiocese.org/ or http://harvestinggifts.camdendiocese.org