By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Bishop Thomas Zinkula met Oct. 23 with the second of three groups representing St. Mary Parish to discuss the parish’s future. He focuses on listening to representatives of each group as they share what the parish means to them.
Bishop Zinkula has been considering for many weeks merging the parish with one or more neighboring parishes. He met with Spanish-speaking Catholics on Oct. 18 and plans to meet this week with the third group, persons who attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Mass according to the 1962 Missal) at St. Mary. All meetings take place at diocesan headquarters in the St. Vincent Center.
Eight Anglo parishioners attended the Oct. 23 meeting. Diocesan representatives in addition to Bishop Zinkula were Father Joseph Sia, the sacramental minister at St. Mary’s; Dan Ebener, director of parish planning for the diocese; and Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s communications director and chief of staff.
Bishop Zinkula opened the meeting with prayer and summarized the situation including the parish’s history, the diocese’s need for pastoral planning, shifting demographics, and the need to think ahead.
Parishes in the rural areas that have merged ask why merging is not also taking place in cities, Bishop Zinkula told the group. “People have said we need to look at the needs of the Davenport west-end parishes. My advisors say to look at St. Mary’s.”
He apologized for misinformation and confusion that occurred after the Quad-City Times published a story about an earlier meeting between parish and diocesan representatives regarding the parish’s future. That article stated that the parish is closing.
“There are two separate issues: the parish and the church buildings. The situation is more nuanced than simply closing St. Mary,” Bishop Zinkula said. He must follow canon law, which includes consulting with the Presbyteral (Priests’) Council. He understands that people are feeling pain. “This is hard no matter what.”
Most of the Anglo representatives have been parishioners for decades and talked about St. Mary’s being a big part of their lives. Parishioner Kay Steele read a letter she composed, thanking the bishop for meeting with the group and expressing confusion over statements she has heard. She described the parish’s dynamics and the three groups’ interactions with one another.
The Anglo parishioners expressed support and concern for the Spanish-speaking Catholics, who make up most of the congregation at Mass and in religious education. The Anglos say they get along well with the Spanish-speaking Catholics and are concerned that neighboring parishes cannot accommodate their needs. The Anglos also say they work well with the people who attend the Extraordi-nary Form of the Mass.
Ebener asked the group, “If the decision to merge is made, which parish would offer the best facility?” The representatives shared various responses. One worried about feeling welcome at a receiving parish.
“There has to be welcoming. We are all Catholics and welcoming,” Bishop Zinkula said. A merger “could end up being a better solution. God can squeeze grace out of a hard situation.” One parishioner asked about the status of St. Mary Cemetery if a merger occurs. The bishop said money would be set aside for perpetual care. Another parishioner noted that most of the graves are unmarked.
What happens to the parish’s buildings if a merger occurs still needs to be determined. A parishioner asked about the possibility of another parish moving to St. Mary’s instead of St. Mary’s moving to another parish.
Ebener explained that Scott County has 13 parishes and that in the coming years fewer priests will be available to serve them. Other areas of the diocese will also need to merge, the bishop said. In the case of St. Mary, many factors affect the decision-making process, not just the shortage of priests and funds, he said.