August 6, 2011 – The Future is Near

There is a song that came out a couple of years ago by one of my favorite singers, Brad Paisley, called “Welcome to the Future”.  The song talks about how much the world has changed in a very short time.  For example, not long ago we had to go to an arcade to play video games, and now we can play them on our cell phone.  Or not long ago we were fighting the Japanese, and now they are one of our closest allies.  Point being that things we thought would be way far out into the future have come upon us quickly, and the “future” we talked about just a few years ago is already here.

This morning our Diocesan Pastoral Council, of which I am a member, met with Bishop Braxton in Belleville.  The entire 2 hour discussion was focused on the future.  And as the song I referenced indicates, the future is not far away.  The subject of parish planning and restructuring is not a new one.  In fact, the topic was addressed well over 20 years ago when Bishop Keleher was here.  Then Bishop Gregory addressed the subject by establishing parish clusters – groups of parishes that were encouraged to work together to see what resources could be shared between them, including sacramental preparation, catechesis and even clergy.  Now after a lengthy preparation process, Bishop Braxton has decided to approach the subject.

Now you may have heard a little about it already, or may have heard rumors floating around.  So you may have a few questions as we enter into another process of parish planning.  Your first question may be “Well, how many parishes are going to close?”.   This has not been determined and will not be without input from the parishes and clusters.  So your next question may be “We have been through this before and nothing really changed – how is this round of evaluations and discussions going to be any different?”.  I think the best answer to this is that the situation dictates that concrete action has to be taken given the changing demographics of the diocese.  Currently there are 117 parishes functioning in the Diocese that serve 70,000 active Catholics.  The bulk of these Catholics are in or around the Belleville area.  There are 69 active diocesan priests ministering in these parishes, along with 22 missionary priests on loan to us from other countries.  However, of the group of 69, many are older men, and some continue to minister despite advanced age, health problems, etc.  For example, there are 5 priests still in active ministry in our Diocese who are 75 years of age or older.  And even though Bishop Braxton has been successful to this point in securing the services of priests from other countries, there is no guarantee that this will continue.

So how is this process going to work?  Well, as far as the specifics, I cannot really get into that until the final draft of the proposal has been prepared and the Bishop gives the OK for release, which will probably come in the next couple of weeks or so. What I can tell you is that it will involve discussion, prayer, and hopefully frank evaluation of where parishes are in terms of their viability.  And hopefully from this process there will be clear recommendations and practical solutions, which unfortunately could include closing or merging of churches and schools.  Yes, evaluation of the viability of the parish schools will be part of the process also.

As we enter this process, even though the final details have not been revealed, there are still several things all of us can do in the meantime.  First of all, we can certainly pray – we can pray that the process yields successful results, we can pray for vocations, and we can pray that those who have left the church or are thinking about leaving the church have a change of heart and embrace the Catholic faith once again.  Secondly, we should not make any assumptions about what is going to happen, and allow the process to play out.  For example, we should not just assume things such as “Well, any church with less than 100 families is going to get the axe”, or “Any school with less than 100 students is going to close.”  The final decisions will be based on many factors.  For example, even though Belleville is a populated area, there are 7 parishes in a relatively small radius, so things like geography will have to be examined as well.  Again, everything is on the table at this point.

Finally, we need to bring an open mind to the process, and we need to take an honest look on ourselves.  We cannot take the attitude of “yeah, it’s OK if parishes close, as long as it’s not ours”.  We need to frankly look at our strengths and weaknesses as well as those of our neighbors and let the process play out.  The ultimate goal of the process is that the people of the parishes will realize what changes need to take place and make sensible recommendations for the Bishop’s approval.  If this is not done, then the decisions will be made for us.

I do not share this with you to scare you, and as I said there have been no final decisions made about anything as of yet.  We should enter this process with the attitude that we are being presented with an opportunity to evaluate ourselves, identify what we are doing well and address things that may need improvement.  If we do this, then whatever final determinations are made, the outcome will be positive.  I will share more with you at the appropriate time.

Please pray for Fr. Gene, our parish staff, leadership, and our parish as a whole.  Besides the normal activities, we will be working on this parish planning process, implementing the revised Roman Missal, introducing the Fanning the Flame program, and starting Confirmation prep, all within the next few months.  So we will be busy beavers.  Please be patient with us as we work through our duties.

Thanks again for reading.  Your support of our website is always appreciated.  Have you joined our Facebook page yet?  Go to our website,, and click the Facebook tab and go from there.  We have 46 members now.  I post death notices and other tidbits on this page, and it’s a chance to stay in touch with current and former parishioners.  Have a great and hopefully cooler upcoming week.  Peace.


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