Grief and loss: Speaker explores realities, perceptions at Presbyterate Day

By JOANNE FOX
joannef@scdiocese.org

STORM LAKE – According to a professor of pastoral counseling, loss or grief isn’t simply related to a parish closure or change – realities that will take place in the next year as Ministry 2025, pastoral planning for the Diocese of Sioux City is implemented.

Dr. Susanne Harvath of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary shared with diocesan clergy on Oct. 27 that those emotions are ones we experience in countless ways in our lives.

The seminary director of psychological and counseling services was the keynote speaker for Presbyterate Day with the theme “Grief – Process, Pastoral Response and Complications.”

Her presentation at St. Mary Church, Storm Lake, was coordinated by the pastor of the parish, Father Tim Friedrichsen, who is also the director of the Committee for the Continuing Formation of Priests.

“Throughout the process of discussing and making pastoral plans for Ministry 2025, there have been many views expressed, and at times, it is clear that there are strong feelings behind the view,” he said. “I had heard Dr. Harvath give an excellent presentation on grief some years ago and decided to contact her.”

In the midst of the major changes and transitions that are part of Ministry 2025, Father Friedrichsen admitted many people will feel grief and sadness over real and perceived losses.

“Dr. Harvath presented materials on the process of grief, grief and pastoral ministry and the complications of grief,” he said. “We also had time to engage Dr. Harvath and each other in questions and discussions for addressing the grief as related to Ministry 2025 – for our people and for ourselves, their deacons, priests and bishop.”

Loss, grief, mourning

Harvath presented on grief and mourning – normally connected with the death of a loved one – but in reality, any loss involves grief and mourning, Father Friedrichsen pointed out.

“I appreciated her definition that grief is a normal, healthy, life-long adaptation to one’s perception of loss,” he said. “Grief is also very specific to the person. None of us can completely understand another person’s perception of loss because of that. Thus, she urged us not to judge other people’s loss, but support them.”

Galen and Julie Sampson of St. Anthony Church, Primghar, are facing the real possibility of their parish going to oratory status and question whether that is the right decision.

“I am a firm believer in ‘What would Jesus do’ with my interactions,” she said. “I am darn sure that closing down parishes is not what Jesus would have done.”

The Sampsons have been members of St. Anthony’s for the past 42 years. Their three children were baptized there and received the sacraments in the parish.

“My church/parish life is very important to me,” Julie Sampson emphasized. “It is where I give my time. St. Anthony’s is my home. All members of our parish and those who visit are my family.”

Julie compared the closing of the parish to having “the rug pulled out from under me.”

“Our parish has been an important part of me in the last 42 years – raising our children, working all the ministries,” she said. “Our church at St. Anthony’s is vital to many and has been full with those coming to worship.”

In the current configuration of the new cluster, the Sampsons would attend Mass at St. Joseph Church in Hartley – 14 miles from their home. The other parish which would remain open in the proposed cluster is Sacred Heart in Spencer. In addition to Primghar, the churches at Sanborn, Sutherland and Sioux Rapids would revert to oratory status.

“I am concerned for the South O’Brien School District Catholic kids and how they would receive their Catholic education,” she said. “I am concerned for our elderly and how they would get to Mass.”

Putting it into perspective

As Dr. Harvath was speaking about grief, Father Brent Lingle, diocesan director of pastoral planning, could see the connections between what she said and what the diocesan faithful are expressing in their reaction to the pastoral plan.

“As she talked about the behaviors of grief, I have either witnessed first-hand or have had others talk about the exact same things,” he said. “The process of pastoral planning and the process of grief coincide. As clergy and parish leaders, we have to acknowledge the pain and work through it so that it can give way to new life.”

Father Lingle recognized the loss and grief that comes with the closing or change in the status of a parish is as real as the death of a loved one.

“We have to acknowledge that – both at the local level and diocesan level – and provide the processes and tools to work through the grief,” he said. “It is also important to keep the loss in perspective.”

Father Friedrichsen appreciated Havrath’s emphasis on not buying into the notion of “getting over it.”

“As the definition notes, grief is a lifelong process,” he said. “It is never completely over.”

However, Father Friedrichsen cautioned the faithful should not exaggerate their grief as Ministry 2025 unfolds.

“We are not losing sacraments. We don’t need to lose vibrant religious education programs and schools. We are not losing the Gospel and the transformative power of our Risen Lord, Christ Jesus. We are not losing the possibility of feeling at home in a parish community, even though it may be much different,” he said.

Father Friedrichsen conceded the process “will be a lot of work.”

“The grief and mourning we are doing as a diocese, as parish communities and as individual believers, will change us,” he said. “I hope we all do this ‘grief work’ in ways that helps us as individual believers, parish communities and as a diocese to continue to be a strong diocesan church and local churches of great faith, hope and love.”

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