By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Parishioners from St. Mary Parish are “a vibrant group and will enrich our (St. Anthony) community,” said John Cooper, pastoral associate for St. Anthony Parish. The two parishes will merge July 1.
Last fall Bishop Thomas Zinkula announced that he had been considering merging St. Mary Parish with one or more neighboring parish communities. He consulted with the communities, sought advice from the Council of Priests and reflected on the situation before making a decision that St. Mary’s would merge with St. Anthony Parish.
Since February when the decision was made, representatives of the two parishes have been meeting to prepare for the merger, first in person and now via Zoom online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Representatives of the parishes have not been able to go into St. Mary’s buildings to evaluate what needs to be moved to St. Anthony’s such as statues, paintings and musical instruments.
Cooper has been educating St. Anthony parishioners about the history of Latinos from Mexico, Central America and South America. He is providing prayers in English and Spanish in the parish bulletin, including the Sign of the Cross, the Glory Be and soon, the Our Father and Hail Mary. “I have the Sign of the Cross down,” he said excitingly. The church’s recently renovated confessionals have copies of the Act of Contrition in both languages. A bilingual rosary was recently offered online.
He describes St. Anthony’s as a welcoming community and a culturally diverse parish with 75 Hispanic families (prior to the merger announcement) and a number of African and Indian families.
At McAnthony Window, the parish’s meal site for the hungry, parishioners have been collecting more food and dry goods, in particular, food items that many in the Hispanic community are accustomed to eating.
Renovation of the old school (the old church) continues. Room is needed for religious education, activities and meetings that the St. Mary community will bring, Cooper noted. The old school now has Wi-Fi, new flooring, hardware and updated restrooms. The parish center also will be used for activities and religious education. St. Anthony staff will remain and Kay Steele, coordinator of religious education at St. Mary Parish, will continue in that role at St. Anthony.
Father Rudy Juarez will serve as pastor of St. Anthony Parish, beginning July 1. He currently serves as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, St. Bernadette Parish in West Branch and St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty.
Father Juarez previously served at St. Mary in Davenport and many parishioners know him.
Father Chris Young, pastor of St. Mary, will become the parochial vicar of St. Anthony and also serve as sacramental minister to the Latin community which will move to Holy Family Parish in Davenport. Father Joseph Sia, sacramental minister of St. Mary, will become pastor of the parishes where Father Juarez currently serves.
Dan Ebener, diocesan director of planning, has been instrumental in the merger process. He and other core team members — Father Sia, Father Young, Father Apo Mpanda (current St. Anthony pastor) and Miguel Moreno, diocesan multicultural coordinator — take proposals to Father Juarez and Bishop Zinkula for input. For example, Cooper said parishioners from St. Mary and St. Anthony have been surveyed about Mass schedule preferences. A new schedule has been proposed to Bishop Zinkula. Parish council, finance council and trustee positions have been discussed; representatives from both parishes will serve in the new councils over time.
Ebener said the two faith communities have a great attitude and he sees the merger as an opportunity for growth and transformation. “This is very inspiring,” he said. “I am seeing new life, new ideas and new energy as we continue to meet.”
Alicia Vieyra, a merger team member from St. Mary Parish, said the Hispanic community members have been giving of their time and talent to the parish and hope to continue many of the Hispanic traditions at their new home. Among those traditions are the annual Kermes festival, Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration on Dec. 12, posadas from Dec.16-24 and outdoor Stations of the Cross.
Vieyra hopes that the Stations of the Cross can be done downtown as an evangelization tool on Good Friday next year. “This is a way we can reach out to others.” She plans to continue her involvement at St. Anthony. She also hopes that one more Mass can be celebrated in St. Mary Church before the merger.
St. Mary parishioner Meny Toquinto said people expressed sadness when the merger was announced, but it wasn’t long before excitement stepped in. “This has been emotional, but in the end we are so happy to be at St. Anthony’s.”
He had visited other churches after learning that St. Mary would merge with one or more other parishes, and felt at home at St. Anthony even before the talks got under way.
He loves how the parishioners at St. Anthony want the Hispanic community to share their traditions and how they pass on the faith to the next generation.
“This will be great. I express extreme gratitude to Father Sia, Father Young, Father Apo, Dan and Miguel for helping with this transition. We, as humans, think what we want is best for me or my community. They point out that we need to think about our community — what is best for everyone. This is what it is all about.”