July 22, 2011

Plan to energize Terre Haute Deanery includes closing four parishes and creating new faith ties

As the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery, Father Rick Ginther, left, listens during a July 14 press conference as Ann Ryan explains some of the changes that will result from a strategic plan to revitalize the Church in west central Indiana. Ryan is the communication chairperson of the Terre Haute Deanery Strategic Plan. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

As the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery, Father Rick Ginther, left, listens during a July 14 press conference as Ann Ryan explains some of the changes that will result from a strategic plan to revitalize the Church in west central Indiana. Ryan is the communication chairperson of the Terre Haute Deanery Strategic Plan. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

TERRE HAUTE—The “agonizing” decision to close four parishes in the Terre Haute Deanery came after more than two years of “much prayerful work, research and reflection by the Terre Haute Deanery Pastoral Leadership Team and the Deanery Planning Team,” according to archdiocesan officials.

In a letter to Catholics in the Terre Haute Deanery on July 13, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein announced his approval of a new strategic plan for the deanery, which included the “very difficult decision” to close four of the deanery’s 14 parishes during the next 15 months: Holy Rosary Parish in Seelyville, St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute, St. Joseph Parish in Universal and St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish in West Terre Haute.

The four parishes represent about 325 families, or less than 10 percent of the approximate 4,000 households in the Terre Haute Deanery.

“The decision to close a parish is agonizing,” the archbishop wrote in the letter. “The Deanery Pastoral Leadership and Deanery Planning Team spent many hours in collection of data and input from the people of the deanery, reviewing resources—current and projected—as well as in prayerful contemplation before making the recommendation for closing these parishes.”

The archbishop also noted that he approved the recommendation after consulting with the archdiocese’s Council of Priests, as required by Church law.

“In the coming months, we will walk with our sisters and brothers whose parishes will close, grieving their loss and welcoming them to new parish families,” the archbishop stated. “We will also begin the exciting work of implementing the strategies that will revitalize and energize the Catholic community in west central Indiana.”

Father Rick Ginther, the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery, also expects the new strategic plan will help to transform the faith life of parishioners in the deanery.

“Even as we grieve these closings, it is ours to look with anticipation to the new collaborations which are key to the strategic plan,” said Father Ginther, who is also pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute. “As the dean and as a pastor of two parishes, I am energized by the new opportunities, the shared use of resources and the opportunity to enhance the life of and mission and ministry of our Catholic community.”

The new strategic plan for the Terre Haute Deanery will strive to create new and broader partnerships across the deanery. Goals include creating a Catholic Ministry Center, broadening deanery support of St. Patrick School in Terre Haute (the only Catholic grade school in the deanery), expanding evangelization and life-long formation, and developing “new opportunities to worship, serve and grow in faith.”

The leadership for the strategic plan included a representative from each of the 14 parishes in the deanery.

“I very much appreciate that the plan was from the ground up,” said Providence Sister Constance Kramer, the parish life coordinator of St. Ann Parish. “The wisdom of the local Church was respected and their decisions were honored. I believe the plan really will enhance the ministry of the Church in west central Indiana.”

Still, her deep connection to St. Ann Parish makes her understand the emotions being experienced by the parishioners of her parish and the other parishes that will close.

“It’s very sad to close any faith community,” she said. “The four parishes closing represent 431 years of ministry in the Church. I think the ministry belongs to God, and we get to be part of it for a while. My personal goal is to help the parishioners of St. Ann’s grieve gracefully and celebrate our life together in the coming year.”

A summary of the strategic plan cited a list of reasons why change is necessary in the Terre Haute Deanery. Included in that list was a reference to the evolving realities that have marked some communities in west central Indiana—from “a declining, aging population” to “a shrinking pool of resources.”

Another key reality mentioned in the report is, “There is much duplication of services, staffing, programs, facilities and finances across the deanery.”

The plan’s summary stated, “Though research confirms that over the past 50 years the region has noted a reduction of nearly all human, employment, industrial and financial demographics, the Terre Haute Deanery has not reduced or reorganized our parishes, church buildings, facilities, services, expenditures or human resources.”

The summary also noted, “The feedback the Deanery Planning Team received from multiple sources supported its thinking that the deanery needs to close or merge existing parishes in order to bring people together in ways that will yield new life and new opportunities.”

St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish is scheduled to close on November 19, 2011, with its parishioners set to attend St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish in St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

St. Joseph Parish in Universal will close on March 18, 2012. Its parishioners are designated to become a part of Sacred Heart Parish in Clinton.

St. Ann Parish is scheduled to close on July 29, 2012. Parishioners will be welcomed to attend Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish or St. Joseph University Parish, both in Terre Haute, according to the deanery strategic plan.

Holy Rosary Parish will close on October 7, 2012, with its parishioners designated to attend either Annunciation Parish in Brazil or St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute.

The implementation of the Terre Haute Deanery’s strategic plan will be coordinated by Julie Bowers, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute.

“My hope is to gather a committed group of lay leaders to take this plan on paper and bring it to life,” Bowers said. “Our thought all along was that we didn’t want to manage the existing circumstances we have, but to create new possibilities in our Church. There are approximately 4,000 households in our deanery. It’s just exciting to think of all of us pulling together to create something new for our Church.”

While the new strategic plan will lead to changes within the Terre Haute Deanery, Archbishop Buechlein pledged that the commitment to serving the less fortunate in the deanery will remain and grow. The food pantry at St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish will continue to serve the poor. So will the dental and medical clinics for those in need that are part of the ministries of St. Ann Parish.

In closing his letter to parishioners in the deanery, the archbishop wrote, “I ask for your prayers for the people of St. Leonard, St. Joseph Universal, Holy Rosary and St. Ann during the difficult months ahead, as well as for the pastoral leaders who continue to lead your deanery in the implementation of this plan.” †

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