Area Catholic parishes are preparing for mergers brought on by the retirement of priests and expensive building repairs.
St. Thomas Church on Bristol Street in Southington will close its building and its pastor, the Rev. Joseph Cronin, will instead lead the Church of St. Dominic on Flanders Road.
The Rev. Ronald May, priest at St. Dominic, is retiring on Aug. 1.
St. Thomas’s church building needs expensive repairs, Cronin said. The money would be better put toward the eventual goal of one Roman Catholic church in town by the summer of 2022.
With fewer priests than parishes, pastors will be traveling to the five Roman Catholic churches in town to celebrate mass until the final merger, according to May.
He and Cronin are holding a meeting on Monday to explain the merger to St. Thomas and St. Dominic parishioners and to answer questions.
“Most people don’t understand what that means. It doesn’t mean all the other churches are closing,” May said. “There would be multiple churches that would still be open.”
The meeting will take place at St. Dominic Church, 1050 Flanders Road, at 7 p.m. To sign up, visit www.saintdomincchurch.com.
Church leaders are also streaming the meeting live on the St. Dominic Facebook page.Retiring pastors, few new priests
In addition to May, the Rev. A. Waine Kargul of Mary Our Queen Church in Southington will also retire in the coming year. May said the Hartford Archdiocese will lose 25 priests to retirement in the next five years.
“We might get five ordained” in that time, May said.
The archdiocese and the town’s parish leaders have been meeting for more than a year to determine what to do about the shortage. Merging parishes allows priests to serve at multiple locations. May said programs will also consolidate. Daily masses are already taking place only at Immaculate Conception Church on Summer Street. The religious education program and youth ministry will also be consolidated.
“We use our resources more efficiently,” May said. “Not every church can have every program.”
While parishioners are returning to church as the pandemic subsides, declining numbers of church-goers plus a lack of priests means changes for local parishes, May said. Church buildings
St. Thomas church needs a new heating system for the fall. Cronin said despite reluctance to part with the building, parish leaders agreed that the money would be better served expanding an existing building or helping fund the eventual merger in another way.
Cronin said church leaders are still deciding how to implement the final merger. Until then, priests will travel between church buildings.
Consolidating into one location would require a church building of about 1,000 seats to hold parishioners from all five existing churches, Cronin said. None of the five have that capacity, although St. Dominic is close at 800 seats.
“Those are all discussions for the future,” Cronin said.Wallingford parish mergers
In March, Wallingford’s Most Holy Trinity Church on North Colony Street linked with Our Lady of Fatima Church on Hope Hill Road. The two will later merge with Church of the Resurrection on Pond Hill Road.
Cronin said many towns and cities in Connecticut experienced parish mergers or closures in recent years. Southington hasn’t yet.‘Committed to the faith’
John Leary, a parishioner of St. Dominic, said organizational changes shouldn’t shake people’s faith. While parishioners have attachment to churches where they’ve gone for a long time or had significant moments, attendance shouldn’t be tied to just habit.
“None of that should ever take your eye off why we’re going to church,” Leary said. “Whichever location you go to, we are all members of one unified, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.”
Despite efforts to keep it open, Leary said his Catholic high school in Waterbury was closed down. Elsewhere church buildings have been sold and parishes merged.
“It’s certainly not shutting down our religion,” Leary said. “Our religion remains strong. That’s what we have to remain focused on.”