By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — St. Mary Parish and St. Anthony Parish will become one on July 1, the result of a merger Bishop Thomas Zinkula announced last weekend. Both parishes, a little more than a mile apart from each other, made the announcement during weekend Masses Feb. 8-9.
Father Chris Young, pastor of St. Mary’s, read the announcement at the Saturday and Sunday Masses. Father Joseph Sia, the parish’s sacramental minister, translated for parishioners at the Spanish language Mass on Sunday.
Father Apo Mpanda, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, said he told his parishioners, “St. Anthony’s parish is a global parish. We welcome everybody. You may be poor, rich, yellow, black or white. You will have your place at St. Anthony’s.” He referenced his African culture, in which the oldest take care of the youngest. St. Anthony’s is the oldest parish in the Diocese of Davenport. “For us, it is an honor to welcome them.”
Bishop Zinkula said he engaged in a series of consultations with the communities involved, sought advice from the Council of Priests and spent time reflecting on the situation before making a decision. “This decision is based on the proximity of the two parishes, the size of the parishes, the number of parishioners, the financial situation of St. Mary Parish, the duplication of staff, services and programs in a relatively small geographic area, and the good of souls,” the bishop said in the decree (see Page 3 in English and Page 10 in Spanish).
The bishop believes the “merger will have the ability to unite, consolidate and strengthen the Catholic presence and ministry in this part of Davenport, and will allow for the best use of available priest personnel.”
He said, “This situation is kind of like the Paschal Mystery. In the merger, there is a dying to what has been on the part of both parishes, which can be difficult in some ways. But if we are open to the Holy Spirit, there can be a resurrection to new life in the joining of the parishes. New relationships, new ideas, new possibilities, new energy, new hope.”
Alicia Nava, whose family (including husband, children, parents and siblings) are longtime members of St. Mary Parish, said she initially felt confused and angry about the possibility of a merger during earlier discussions about it. “That’s one of the reasons we met with the bishop about it. We were wondering why he did not see more options. It’s not just a building; it’s like a home you’ve lived in for 20 years or more.”
Now Nava feels excited about the merger, having met as part of a group of St. Mary representatives with the bishop and with the pastor and staff at St. Anthony Parish. Praying and being open to God’s will help, which she and many others have been doing, she said. “I know he has something for us…. You need to be open to listen to what God wants.”
Kay Steele, another longtime St. Mary parishioner, struggles with the merger decision. “It’s very hard to think about it without crying, truthfully,” she said. “St. Mary’s has always been my home, my extended family.” She knows the parish is not closing, but the church building will be. “It’s hard to think about when you love that building so much.”
The challenge now, Father Sia says, is to help people move toward acceptance. “People are at all different levels of grief. You have to work with people at whatever stage they are in. Ultimately it is God who will heal them through that process.” Father Sia recognizes a need for individual conversations with parishioners and speaking about the merger from the pulpit.
The warm welcome that he and other St. Mary representatives received during their visit to St. Anthony Parish made an impact in finding a good fit for the three communities at St. Mary’s — the Hispanic, Anglo and Latin groups. Nava hopes that moving to St. Anthony’s will unite all of the communities as one.
Father Mpanda stressed the importance of providing a warm welcome for the visit. “When they came they found food, all the information about St. Anthony Parish, what we do.” The children at St. Mary’s love sports, especially soccer. Father Mpanda said he told the St. Mary representatives that he loves soccer and could coach the kids.
Nava grew more encouraged about the merger while talking with John Cooper, St. Anthony Parish’s pastoral associate/business manager, during a Vision 20/20 mentor training event Feb. 8. He asked about St. Mary’s needs and expressed a desire to accommodate them, she said.
The most pressing need is classroom space for the 150-plus students in religious education at St. Mary, most of them from the Hispanic community. St. Anthony plans to renovate its original church building on site to accommodate students in religious education in both parishes.
Father Young sees the merger as a wakeup call to intensify efforts to promote vocations at the parish level. “This would be a good moment, in my opinion, in the life of our diocese, to establish vocations committees in every parish, if not already in place, earnestly promote ‘Called by Name’ this coming weekend and recommit ourselves to Vision 20/20,” Father Young said.
“One thing I’ve learned from this process is to look at the big picture, not just at St. Mary’s, as the bishop said,” observed Father Sia. The priest shortage, along with fewer people attending Mass, make up a part of the big picture, he said.
Cooper said, “I’m very excited about what it (the merger) is going to bring to the parish. There will be growing experiences; we’ll have to work through it and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us.”