Because of diminishing membership, Saginaw’s Catholic Diocese is beginning a three-year process to consolidate parishes.
The diocese includes 105 parishes spread across almost 7,000 square miles in 11 counties around Saginaw, Bay City and Midland.
The Most Bishop Joseph Cistone says many dioceses face this type of challenge as populations shift and change over time. And, he said, he hopes growth through change will offer his flock a healthy future.
Under the new plan, some parishes will become the main church – where regularly scheduled services and sacraments take place for members. The other half will be reduced to additional-use or occasional-use status.
Additional use churches will continue to celebrate mass on weekends in most cases. Depending on specific needs of the community daily mass, weddings, funerals, holy days and other parish liturgies may also be celebrated in those churches.
Occasional use churches might not be closed, but services will only be provided on limited occasions.
The Bishop says he knows some may find it painful. But he noted that pain is unfortunately sometimes a part of growth. “We will walk together and move on – with our friends – in a new parish configuration”, he says. “It may not be the same building, but it will be the same church, the same people, the same community.”
It’s a decision that Bishop Cistone says involved consultants, years of study and input from all over the diocese...“so that we could get an understanding of what the status our parishes is and what needs to be done in order to strengthen the parishes and therefore strengthen the diocese as a whole to do the work of the church.”
The Bishop personally met with every priest – active and retired – as well as every pastoral administrator to consider age, health conditions, retirement plans, and any other factors which determine strong parish leadership. He also commissioned an engineering study of each parish structure, including bell towers.
He says the key to this process will be to build a foundation on the traditions and memories of the past and move forward together from there.
-Chris Zollars, Michigan Radio Newsroom