By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A 20-year engagement is about to become a marriage. Three parishes — St. Mary-Riverside, Holy Trinity-Richmond and St. Joseph-Wellman — are merging to form Holy Family Parish, the name they chose. Bishop Thomas Zinkula announced today (June 10) that the union will take effect July 1.
“This is the best kind of merger, a ‘friendly merger.’ After collaborating for many years, the parishes recognized that they could be stronger together,” the bishop said. “They could better accomplish their mission united as one. So they approached the diocese and requested permission to merge.”
The parishes’ pastor, pastoral associate and parishioners who spoke to The Catholic Messenger believe the union is a blessing for the faithful of the merging parishes. “Each parish is viable on its own, but feels much stronger working together as a family unit,” Father Bill Roush, the pastor, wrote in a letter to Bishop Zinkula requesting the merger.
Father Roush’s letter provides an overview of the growing collaboration among the three parishes, which total about 700 families. Their parish councils have met together for the past seven years and their finance councils have met together for the same period, sharing each other’s financial statements on a quarterly basis. Beginning this year, one finance secretary serves all three parishes. They share confirmation class, first reconciliation and first Communion retreats. They acquired a religious education director who has standardized lesson plans for all three parishes, which still meet at their respective locations. The parishes also share a deacon/pastoral associate and a business administrator.
“Even though they can stand on their own, our parishes feel they would benefit by being together as one, and supporting each other. Together, we would have a stronger presence in our community,” Father Roush said. “The parishes have been together for so long. Let’s do what we can to bond that; it’s a marriage.”
Feedback from parishioners has been positive, although some parishioners have expressed fear of a loss of their identity. “I totally understand,” Father Roush said. “But the fact is we’re not going to get rid of any church, not in the foreseeable future. We will continue to have Mass at each of the church buildings. I would not change Mass times for any reason.”
With the merger, “the average parishioner is not going to notice anything has changed,” he said. “Each of the churches will retain its name — St. Mary, St. Joseph and Holy Trinity — followed by the phrase, ‘of Holy Family Parish.’”
Now is the opportune time to merge “because all three parishes are in about the same space financially.” St. Mary Parish has completed a more than $750,000 capital campaign — strongly supported by the other two parishes — that provided for major and necessary work on the church building and grounds. St. Mary serves as the administrative center.
Jane Duwa, a longtime member of Holy Trinity Parish who served as parish secretary saw the light, so to speak, when she became business administrator for all three parishes in 2019. “I really had my eyes opened when I started here. I thought, ‘This is crazy’” — three sets of everything, from financial and other reports to purchases of votive candles, altar bread and supplies for each church. Seeing the work that Financial Secretary Tami Edwards does to prepare reports for each parish has had the biggest impact on Duwa. Joint purchasing will create economy of scale and eliminate confusion about purchase orders and divvying up costs among three separate parishes.
“I think it’s an absolutely good thing,” said Junell Duwa, a lay director for St. Joseph Parish. “I know some people have mixed feelings; that’s a normal reaction to change. It seems as though people are responding in a positive way. It’s going to be for the betterment of all of us down the road.” As time goes on, the shortage of priests and personnel make it necessary for parishioners to prepare and to accommodate, she said.
The individual churches will continue to have their fall dinners and other events that draw people together from all three. As the pandemic restrictions ease, “We’re like little kids in a candy store getting together. It’s just so much fun to see each other again.”
Sandy Marner, a member of Holy Trinity Parish, is excited about the merger. “I feel like we’ve been one parish; this solidifies it. I think it will streamline so many things and give us more opportunities,” she said.
Deacon Derick Cranston, pastoral associate for the three parishes, said the work toward a merger has been coalescing for the past couple of years. The pandemic provided time to reflect and re-evaluate. “Father Bill did a great job getting as much feedback as possible.”
Beginning July 4, the first Sunday following the merger, Holy Family Parish will adopt the motto: “One parish, three churches,” Deacon Cranston said. “We want each church to keep its identity and heritage, bringing all of that into one parish.” The parishioners, who voted for the unified parish’s name, have commented, “We’ve worked together like a family, going to each other’s dinners and fundraisers,” he said. “We’re all going to benefit from sharing our assets and working together.”