By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
On July 1, Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington and Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish in West Burlington officially merged. Pastor Father Marty Goetz formally announced news of the merger during Masses at the end of February. He explained to the faithful, “We feel this is the best course of action for us … to seek and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
No church buildings will close as a result of the merger. St. Paul Church and St. John Church in Burlington, and Ss. Mary & Patrick Church in West Burlington, remain open, and the weekend Mass schedule will not be affected, according to Fr. Goetz. Offices converged in the West Burlington location, while Fr. Goetz remains in residence in Burlington.
The parishes have been working in harmony for years, organizing Faith Fest each summer with other Des Moines County parishes and sharing various ministries, including religious education, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, health ministry and evangelization programs. Fr. Goetz said merger discussions were expedited when the West Burlington and Dodgeville parishes lost their pastor in July 2016 due to a priest shortage in the Diocese of Davenport. Fr. Goetz took over as pastor of those two parishes while continuing to serve as pastor of the Burlington parish. Parochial vicar Father William Roush and Deacon Bob Glaser, along with lay ministers, “stepped up” to make sure the needs of all three parishes were being met.
In September, Fr. Goetz met with then-Bishop Martin Amos and Vicar General Father Tony Herold to discuss options. “At that time it was decided to proceed” with merging the Burlington and West Burlington parishes, said Fr. Goetz. “The parish lay directors, along with the Parish Council presidents and Region Council president, met in October, and they agreed.” The Dodgeville parish, located about 10 miles from the Burlington/West Burlington area, remains a mission parish.
Following the February announcement, parish leaders asked the faithful to participate in the merger by helping to choose a new parish name. Members of the parishes submitted their ideas, and leadership groups at the parishes met with Bishop Amos and Dan Ebener, diocesan director of Stewardship and Planning, in March to discern the top three. “Bishop Amos and I both thought the idea of involving the parishioners in naming the parish made sense since it is really their parish,” Ebener said. “Of course, the bishop has to approve the name, as per canon law.”
Ss. Mary & Patrick and Ss. John & Paul parishioners chose from among three names: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Kolkata and Divine Mercy. Voting took place during two weekend Masses in March, and online. More than 600 people voted, Fr. Goetz said.
The results were tallied and announced on Easter. Fr. Goetz believes the parishioners chose Divine Mercy for a couple reasons. “First, many people desire the gift of mercy or have received it. Second, I think it would have been confusing to people to have a saint parish name with a saint church name.” The churches are now referred to as Divine Mercy Parish followed by the church name: for example, Divine Mercy Parish: Ss. Mary & Patrick Church.
Having been commissioned by Pope Francis as a Minister of Mercy during the Year of Mercy, Fr. Goetz personally loves the new parish name. He believes it gives the faithful a clear objective to be “people of mercy living the Gospel and bringing the love of Jesus to others.”
Fr. Goetz said the main objective for Divine Mercy Parish is the same as it was when the parishes were separate: “How do we best serve the needs of those who seek us out, who hunger for a deeper meaning in life, so that the Gospel can be proclaimed and the sacraments administered?”
Because some individual parish programs have been integrated as a result of the merger, parish leaders will work to find ways to engage people whose roles have been diminished.
Fr. Goetz hopes and prays that “people will come around and see that we are one parish in Burlington/West Burlington. I know change is hard but I believe that Jesus is guiding us and will continue to guide us.”