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Catholic Churches to Realign

By Staff | Feb 1, 2009

As one heads to Mass today, he or she may learn that at least one Catholic church in the county is closing and many others are joining forces to better serve the faithful.

Bishop Joseph F. Martino, leader of the Diocese of Scranton, announced sweeping realignments and some closures of churches within Lycoming and other counties starting in July, with audio recordings tailored to specific churches played Saturday afternoon and evening.

Holy Rosary in Newberry will shut its doors in the summer, Martino said.

While Holy Rosary Church, which had been linked with Ascension Church, is closing, its members will consolidate, joining with the Church of the Annunciation and Mater Dolorosa, said Monsignor Neil Van Loon, Episcopal Vicar for the Western Pastor Region, which includes six counties.

“In some way every parish has been touched,” he said.

“The main church will be Annunciation,” he said, “with Ascension limited to one weekend Mass, Mater Dolorosa a weekend Mass and a daily Mass and Ascension will continue to have weddings and funerals.”

Meanwhile, St. Boniface, St. Lawrence in South Williamsport and St. Ann at Faxon in Loyalsock Township have a collaborative relationship, getting pastoral direction from St. Boniface pastor, Monsignor Stephen McGough.

The three churches will link no later than July. This will be reviewed in July 2011. It is further directed that the linked parishes will develop a proactive plan to partner in the combining of activities, resources, personnel, Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults, sacramental preparation and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

Our Lady of Lourdes in Montoursville and Church of the Resurrection in Muncy will enter into a partnership and St. Luke’s in Jersey Shore and Immaculate Conception on Jacks Hollow Road in Bastress Township will deepen their linkage, Van Loon said.

At Ascension the mood was quiet as worshippers listened. There was a sigh when the members learned there would be one weekend Mass, said Joan Nevill, a church member.

“I’m pleased that we’re still open and have a Mass,” she said, not surprised about the closure of Holy Rosary. “We haven’t had a declining attendance at our church,” she said. “It is quite full, with 200-plus at the liturgies.”

Nevill said it was her family’s fourth generation and she was glad they could continue to worship.

Hundreds gathered for Saturday afternoon Mass at St. Boniface Church, and seemed relieved as McGough offered a light-hearted take on the bishop’s message.

“What this means is I will be pastor at St. Boniface and I’ll be pastor of St. Lawrence and I’ll be partnered with St. Ann in Faxon,” he said.

McGough admitted the tape of Martino was dropped off Saturday and he played it on his computer.

“The first thing I said was ‘Oh, Dear, here we go again.'”

McGough tried to put it all in perspective.

Alterations and changes are always a possibility.

“In two years, that will be re-evaluated,” he said. “We thought this would be a more dramatic move and that perhaps St. Lawrence would be eliminated, but that was decided as not helpful.

“It’s a big thing for a lot of people,” he said. “You know what? I’m right here. I’m going to be staying here and I love it.

“I hope you are at peace with it,” McGough said. “I am at peace with it. We’ll be adapting over the next six months and planning and merging.

“I haven’t lost any sleep over this. You know, I’ve been here 10 years. I love the people of this church and am not about to be the least bit angry about anything. We will push on no matter who they join us with. I just love my life. It’s not really a problematic thing.

“If you were working for IBM you’d be looking at this kind of thing.”

“All this is just stuff,” he said. “God bless you all. All will work together to do what is required to continue to spread the gospel and message of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“You’ve had ups, you’ve had downs, you’ve had tragedies and victories and survived it all. That’s where we are.”

McGough said he served in churches at Troy, Canton and Ralston and was interested to know what would happen in these regions.

“The bishop delivered the message in as pastoral a way as possible,” Van Loon said. “That is the reason he made the discs so that everyone could hear it as one time from him personally.”

The bishop described the plan as having three models: It calls upon parishes to retain their own pastors to enter into formal relationships of operation and cooperation that will involve sharing of resources and programs.

In the first model the churches remain the same and start to share resources, which is considered partnership. In the second, two parishes are to be served by one pastor and linked and a final model involves consolidation, which occurs when two or more parishes come together in such a way that only one parish continues to exist.

The entire plan is available online tonight at 7 on the Diocesan Web site at www.dioceseofscranton.org.