Winona diocese puts hold on church closings, mergers

Published 4:17 pm Thursday, July 14, 2016

By Jerome Christenson

Winona Daily News

Change will come a little more slowly to Catholics in the Winona Diocese.

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Implementation of a proposed diocese-wide reorganization plan — Vision 2016 — originally set for July 1 has been temporarily put on hold. Diocesan spokesman Ben Frost said Monday that “the timeline for implementation has been extended slightly. We hope to communicate updates on Vision 2016 later this summer.”

“This year we have seen the passing of five of our priests, the retirement of one and impending retirements on the horizon. These are contributing factors to the delayed implementation of the Vision 2016 plan for many parishes,” Frost said.

The diocese has had to deal with a number of other challenges in recent months

That includes 115 claims of sexual abuse brought under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, and last month’s resignation of Chancellor and Vicar General Richard Colletti following the revelation of a 30-year-old improper relationship with an adult woman. Colletti played a key role in the development and implementation of Vision 2016.

The Vision 2016 plan involves organizational changes to nearly half of the 114 Catholic parishes in the diocese. Of those, 21 of the smallest parishes are scheduled to be merged with larger parishes nearby. Their church buildings will be converted to “oratory” status — meaning they will not be the site of regular celebrations of the Mass, but that Catholic weddings, funerals, prayer services and other liturgical events may be held there as long as it is feasible to maintain the building.

The plan was developed to address three critical issues facing the Catholic Church in southern Minnesota: Fewer priests; shifting trends in participation in church life and the sacraments; and shifts in demographics and population — both growth and decline — in parishes and communities served by diocese.

Locally, parish churches in Altura, Dakota, Elba, Lanesboro, Minneiska, Minnesota City, and Wilson are proposed to become oratories. The parish membership will merge with parishes in Rollingstone, La Crescent, St. Charles, Preston, and St. Stanislaus parish in Winona.

These moves would reduce the number of parish clusters — churches served by a resident pastor — in the Winona area from 10 to eight.

Two mergers called for by the plan have already taken place. St. Killian Parish in St. Killian, Minnesota, merged with St. Anthony Parish in Lisimore, Minnesota, on June 30; and St. Katherine Parish in Truman, Minnesota, will merge with St. Mary Parish in Madelia on July 31.

The process that culminated in the Vision 2016 plan was begun in 2011 and included two years of discussion among diocesan leaders, clergy and church members. Out of these discussions came several recommendations incorporated into the plan:

A parish with fewer than 70 households or worshipers, and 50 or fewer sacramental activities — baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings, and funerals — in four years, is to be merged with a larger parish with the church building becoming an oratory. An individual parish must have a weekend Mass — which may alternate among churches of a merged parish if necessary. A cluster should not require more than three weekend Masses without the assistance of a second priest.