By KATIE BORKOWSKI
CARROLL COUNTY – Since the beginning of July, the newly-assigned team of priests in Carroll County have been rotating to each of the parishes for the weekend Masses and to introduce themselves to the parishioners.
The team of priests includes Father Kevin Richter, pastor; Fathers Brian Feller, John Gerald, Shinoj Jose and Mark Stoll, who are all parochial vicars and Father Timothy Schott, the senior priest.
As of Aug. 6, the six priests have rotated to each of the 13 parishes. In the bulletins at each location each week, the parishioners received a biography of one of the priests on the team. Father Richter also writes a message for the parishioners each week, “From the Pastor’s Desk.”
Now that the priests have been to each parish and completed one cycle, the schedule will change a little bit.
“Each of us will be in our home site for one weekend and then for two weekends we will go to one of the other sites,” said Father Richter, who resides at Carroll Holy Spirit. “Every third week, we are back in site of residence. We recognized it might be better for the priests and the people in the parishes if they had a more regular connection with the priest who has residence in their site.”
The schedule has been put together from now through June of 2018.
“People have been very gracious with receiving different priests in their parish each week,” said Father Richter. “They have been welcoming, supportive and accommodating.”
When parishioners arrived for Mass each week at Carroll Holy Spirit, they were encouraged to put on a name tag. Some of the sites hosted coffee and rolls following Mass, so the parishioners had a chance to meet each of the priests.
Communicating the plan
Father Stoll, who resides at St. Bernard in Breda, mentioned there seems to continue “to be some misunderstanding about Ministry 2025 in Carroll County.”
“Several parishioners from various parishes indicate they believe we are one parish already,” said Father Stoll. “However, we have not even begun the process of consolidating the 13 parishes, if this will be what the parishes of Carroll County decide to do when we begin our local planning process.”
A common question, he said is why the priests are doing the weekend Mass rotation schedule.
“I do like the opportunity to visit all 13 parishes in Carroll County, to preside at Sunday Masses and to visit with parishioners of each parish,” said Father Stoll.
Father Gerald, who resides at Annunciation in Coon Rapids, said the parishioners are “so welcoming, very encouraging and supportive” at each of the parishes.
“Since I have been living in this area for a while, I see a lot of familiar faces,” he said. “That’s a good feeling. Everywhere I go, the people are very appreciative (and say), ‘Thank God our church is still open.’”
On the other hand, Father Gerald said, some of the parishioners have anxiety because of the unknown factors of Ministry 2025 and of what the future holds.
“It is a big change for all of us,” said the priest during his homily on Aug. 7 at St. Augustine in Halbur. “It is a big change for us priests and a big change for all of you. Let us all work together to build up the kingdom of God.”
Father Jose, who resides in Halbur, has had a great experience getting to know all the parishioners of all these different churches.
“The parishioners are all very loving and very welcoming,” he said. “They are ready to help out in all the ways to make our ministry better and comfortable. The parishioners, though some of them were bit anxious about this change in the beginning, are now happy and slowly getting used to the change.”
The team of priests has a staff meeting every Thursday to touch base and meets twice a week for a meal at Holy Spirit Church.
“I enjoy the fraternity, when we get together for prayer and supper,” said Father Feller, who has been in Carroll for two years. “I feel very grateful for Bishop (Walker) Nickless’ selection of this particular team of priests.”
Father Feller, who resides at St. Lawrence and is the chaplain at Kuemper Schools, is also grateful for the continued service of the retired priests and support from the permanent deacons in the area.
Father Stoll has been in Carroll County since August of last year. He enjoys visiting with the other priests during the weekly meeting about ministering to the 13 parishes in Carroll County as well as sharing two meals a week with the priest team.
He mentioned he has been a pastor for more than 19 years of his 25 years of priesthood, basically from 1997-2017, including about one year as pastor for Breda St. Bernard, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Arcadia St. John the Baptist.
“It was a sacrifice to give up my duties as pastor to become one of the four parochial vicars for Carroll County with Father Richter as pastor,” said Father Stoll. “It is a sacrifice to travel to all 13 locations for weekend Masses. Yet, these are sacrifices that are necessary, at this time, to help us through the Ministry 2025 process.”
Though this will be a challenging process, Father Stoll is hopeful that this process “will make us a stronger Catholic diocese. I am happy to be part of the planning for future of the parishes of Carroll County.”
Father Gerald was the pastor in Manning and Manilla before joining the team ministry.
“It is a great experience to get to know all the priests (on the team),” he said. “Each one has something unique, something original. It is a wonderful friendship and camaraderie. It is nice to know we are a team working for the kingdom of God.”
Father Jose has been in the diocese for two years and was the associate pastor at St. Joseph in Milford before moving to Carroll County at the end of June.
“I am so happy that we are a great team of priests with different talents and abilities,” he said. “Working together is helping us to learn different things from each other, which are in turn helping us to provide a wonderful spiritual path to the parishioners whom we serve.”
Team ministry, Father Jose said, is “always wonderful and at this point we need lot of prayers from every one as the county is getting ready for this big change.”
What’s to come?
The next step for Ministry 2025 plans in Carroll County will start with the priests meeting with the facilitator in the coming weeks.
“From that meeting, we will get a schedule put together of the next few months of meetings and the pastoral planning process,” said Father Richter. “One of the next questions will be what representatives from each parish do we bring together? How do we figure that out and what is the procedure we will use as we unfold this?”
The plan that is currently on paper will be what will be worked off of, noted the priest. If there is a consensus among the parishes about “a better plan or tweaks of the plan, then the diocese would review that with us,” said Father Richter.
He hopes to walk through the process “as gracefully as possible. Certainly it is not going to be easy for many of the sites. There are difficult decisions that have to be made.”
“My hope it that we continue to find ways as Catholics in Carroll County to work together and be unified in faith and in who we are as a people of God,” said Father Richter.
Father Brian Feller – parochial vicar and Kuemper chaplain – attending to Carroll St. Lawrence
Father John Gerald – parochial vicar – attending to Coon Rapids Annunciation (residence), Dedham St. Joseph and Glidden St. Elizabeth Seton
Father Shinoj Jose – parochial vicar – attending to Halbur St. Augustine (residence), Roselle Holy Angels and Templeton Sacred Heart
Father Kevin Richter – pastor – attending to Carroll Holy Spirit
Father Timothy Schott – senior priest – attending to Lidderdale Holy Family and Willey St. Mary
Father Mark Stoll – parochial vicar – attending to Breda St. Bernard (residence), Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Arcadia St. John the Baptist