By RENEE WEBB
When the pastoral planning process in the Diocese of Sioux City – Ministry 2025 – was rolled out in February, an implementation date of July 2017 was announced.
However, the decision has been made to move forward with the proposed changes outlined in Ministry 2025 for the Webster County parish and three of the parishes in Sioux City – Cathedral, St. Joseph and St. Boniface – that are eventually slated to be merged into one parish.
Father Brent Lingle, director of the pastoral planning, said as proper pastoral coverage with the new assignments were examined for this summer, some hard decisions needed to be made.
“With this year’s priest personnel moves and knowing the situations we have with clergy placement, we realized there were a few places where we have to move up on the timeline to happen sooner than what we proposed for the rest of the diocese,” he explained.
Msgr. Kevin McCoy, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish of Webster County and vicar general, pointed out it was hoped there would be sufficient priests to cover assignments as they currently stood but that did not turn out to be the case.
This year, three priests are retiring and another is taking medical leave.
“The bishop and his advisors had to look at what could be done to implement some aspects of the plan already in 2016,” said Msgr. McCoy.
Father Lingle explained that while the Sioux City parishes will remain individual parishes at this time, this cluster will go from two pastors and a parochial vicar down to one pastor and a parochial vicar. That means many elements of becoming one parish will begin to unfold.
“Over the course of the next year, we can work at transitioning from those three parishes into one parish with the three worship sites,” he said. “Not everything in Ministry 2025 in that parish cluster will be realized this summer, but some things will have to change in August such as Masses.”
This next year, Father Lingle added, will provide for a period of transition and adjustment as staffs and organizations are eventually merged.
In Webster County, Holy Trinity Parish will be reduced from three to two priests, so it was determined to place three of its five worship sites in oratory status on Aug. 1, 2016 – St. Matthew, Clare; Christ the King, Dayton and Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorland. Two of the parish’s worship sites – Sacred Heart and Corpus Christi in Fort Dodge – will remain open.
“There are simply too many Masses for two priests to be able to handle,” said Father Lingle, who noted the parochial vicar will also do ministry at St. Edmond School. “Part of our goals for Ministry 2025 is to keep our priests healthy – so by eliminating some of that traffic it will hopefully help.”
Both priests acknowledged that for years it was the plan for the outlying parishes/worship sites of Webster County to close.
“It seemed almost a matter of inevitability,” Msgr. McCoy said. “Holy Trinity Parish has been grappling with the declining number of priests for service across these 715 square miles since the late 1990s. To this end, the parish leadership over the years assessed just what are those roles reserved strictly to the ‘ordained minister’ (priest and/or deacon); and what other ministries can be overseen, directed and exercised utilizing theologically trained staff.”
In the late 1990s, a team ministry approach began in Webster County.
“When I arrived here in 2008, the parish was utilizing eight worship sites with four priests serving the parish, and at that time the parish was reduced from four to three priests,” explained Msgr. McCoy. “Holy Trinity parish was established in November 2006 through a church canonical process joining the then eight parishes in Webster County under the new ecclesiastical and civil title of Holy Trinity Parish of Webster County.”
Since that time, three of the worship sites in the parish have closed.
Holy Trinity Parish is currently in the process of scheduling meetings at each site going to oratory status.
For parishioners in Webster County who attend Mass at a worship site scheduled to go to oratory status, Father Lingle acknowledged they are going through a sense of loss, yet again, after experiencing it when their parish first closed.
“We know this comes as a tremendous shock to so many who have worshiped in these sites for years,” Msgr. McCoy said. “As so many have told me, ‘We knew the day would come, but it does not mean that it does not hurt – nor that it is your fault.’ So knowing that there is pain with this loss, we want to find appropriate, helpful ways to deal with these realities as they come to pass.”
Father Lingle said the process for Ministry 2025 continues to unfold. Informational deanery meetings were held last month and the diocese is now taking feedback to make final recommendations.
“We are trying to allow the process as we promised to play out as best as we can,” he said. “But like anything, priests are human and sometimes there are things we cannot foresee like health issues and there are not always a whole group of priests to pick from to fill those places. Thankfully we have a plan and process in place that allows us to make those changes in a guided process where people can offer feedback and input.”
Through this process, Msgr. McCoy said the Holy Spirit still “dwells with us and will guide us along a path to renewed vibrancy within the local church. Our Catholic Church, as the solemnity of the Ascension reminds us, is a community founded for mission and not maintenance. We will continue to experience change in Northwest Iowa with shifting demographics and all that means. Still we are a church united by our faith and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.”