Reorganization will create new parishes with shared priests while many churches retain names, services

Reorganization will create new parishes with shared priests while many churches retain names, services


The reorganization of Catholic churches has led to confusion about what happens to churches that are merging as part of a consolidation plan in the Archdiocese of Hartford resulting from dwindling attendance and financial resources.

Many churches merging will remain open for Masses, funerals and weddings, but they will become part of a new parish consisting of two to six churches with a shared priest.

Archbishop Leonard Blair announced Sunday that as of June 29 the archdiocese will have 127 parishes instead of 212. Of the 127 parishes, 68 will remain as they are, and 59 will merge in unions of two to six churches. The Archdiocese of Hartford serves Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven counties.

A total of 186 churches will remain open, while 26 will close, meaning there won’t be any scheduled Masses in those buildings.

In Meriden, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Joseph, St. Laurent, St. Mary, and Holy Angels Church will merge to become Our Lady Queen of Angels parish. The new parish will be led by the Rev. Thomas Sievel, according to the Archdiocese of Hartford’s website.

The St. Laurent and St. Mary church buildings will close.

The merged churches will retain their names but belong to one parish.

St. Rose of Lima will remain open as its own parish with the Rev. James Manship transferring from New Haven. Manship, who speaks Spanish, is known as an advocate for the rights of Latino parishioners.

“That population in certain areas and towns, including Meriden and Waterbury, is growing,” said the Rev. Ronald May of St. Dominic Church in Southington. “There is an influx of Latinos from many countries. Those parishes are growing and the pastors are either Latinos themselves or know Spanish.”

SS. Peter & Paul Church of Wallingford will merge with St. Stanislaus Church in Meriden to share a common Polish culture under the new parish name St. Faustina. The Rev. Edward Ziemnicki of St. Stanislaus will lead the new parish.

The new names came from conversations with pastors and parish laity, May said. Eventually, Immaculate Conception will merge with St. Thomas Church in Southington, according to May, though no such merger has been announced by the archdiocese.

In Cheshire, St. Bridget, St. Thomas Becket and Epiphany churches will merge as the St. Bridget of Sweden parish. The Church of the Epiphany will close.

In Wallingford, Most Holy Trinity, Resurrection and Our Lady of Fatima in Yalesville will remain separate parishes. Most Holy Trinity will be led by the Rev. Jorge Castro, reflecting demographic changes in the congregation.

According to the archdiocese, the money from merged parishes is combined.

Many factors led to the need for consolidation, including a shift in demographics, economic conditions, and urban and suburban development.

In the last 50 years, Sunday Mass attendance in the archdiocese has declined from 395,000 to 123,500. The decline coincides with a decline in baptisms and church weddings.

There are also fewer ordinations to the priesthood. Since 1965, the total number of active priests in the archdiocese has dropped from 535 to 186.

Local churches are also facing financial challenges maintaining aging buildings with fewer active parishioners and less money.

“I think change is inevitable in the Catholic church,” said John Adamski, a Meriden resident who attends weekly Masses at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. “It’s unfortunate that it’s happening.”

Adamski said attendance at Masses has dropped.

“There used to be five Masses on Sunday. The numbers have dwindled significantly,” he said.

In 2010, St. Rose of Lima, St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mount Carmel were the three most populated churches in Meriden, with 1,438, 1,325 and 1,179 registered Catholic households, respectively.

By 2015, registered households at the three churches fell between 28 and 55 percent.

At Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Rev. David Carey said the reorganization did not come as a surprise. He cited low attendance.

The new parish names were established with the idea to create names that had not been previously used, Carey said.

Carey has been in Meriden for 13 years, including 10 years with Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He will move to St. Pio of Pietrelcina in East Haven in late June.

“I’ve made a lot of friends here in Meriden,” he said. “I’m going to miss the people. It’s hard to pull up stakes when you’ve been somewhere for 13 years.”

Tisa Wenger, an associate professor of American religious history at Yale Divinity School, said last month that Catholic membership has leveled off nationally. But that’s due in large part to immigration from Catholic regions such as South America and the Philippines. In Connecticut, where large-scale immigration has ended, the church is “hemorrhaging” members.

Catholic schools have faced similar drops in enrollment that have also led to mergers and closings.

In March, St. Joseph School on West Main Street in Meriden announced it would close at the conclusion of the academic year. The school opened in 1915.

St. Joseph’s 149 students were encouraged to enroll at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, which is about a quarter of a mile away.

St. Joseph’s enrollment declined by 34 percent from 2010 to 2014. Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s enrollment fell 17 percent during the same period, according to the Archdiocese of Hartford.

The closed buildings will be handled on a case-by case basis, May said. The archdiocese considers possible reuses of church-owned buildings. As an example, St. Stanislaus School, which closed last year, is now the new home of Catholic Family Services in Meriden. Although the former school remains tax-exempt, the move freed up the Catholic Family Services building for private investment and a return to the city’s tax rolls.

“The diocese has certain requirements,” May said. “They have to look at individual buildings and how they can be reused.”

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