There is no doubt that the recent Catholic Diocese of Fargo touted proposal to reorganize local parishes, including the merger of West Fargo's Holy Cross and Blessed Sacrament Catholic Churches, is a hotbed issue that is only going to see tensions continue to escalate and exacerbate before anything is definitively decided.
It appears that the study and ultimate proposal was formulated without the knowledge or input of parishioners, who were more or less blindsided when word came down at weekend services about a month ago about the plan calling for the coming together of Holy Cross and Blessed Sacrament, and subsequent dissolution of the latter. Also previewed was the establishment of two new Catholic elementary schools, which would be funded out of parish operating budgets, one at Holy Cross and another at a new St. Benedict's location near Horace.
Three heated meetings have already taken place regarding the proposal, with the supposed intention of "providing clarity." Three more are scheduled for this week "for the purpose of refinement." The first was last night at Holy Cross (after we went to press), the remaining two are set for Thursday at St. Anthony's of Padua Church, 701 10th St. S., Fargo, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., and Saturday at Sts. Anne and Joachim Social Hall, 5202 25th St. S., Fargo, from 9 to 11:30 a.m.
The most vocal responders questioning the validity of this proposal have been parishioners at Blessed Sacrament Church who have developed a methodical list of questions for Diocese officials, all extremely deserving of answers.
Parishioners are proud of the church's rich heritage and rightfully so. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this November, Blessed Sacrament is the first and oldest Catholic Church in the community presently home to well over 600 parish families.
Parishioners say that securing answers to basic, transparent questions for which information should have been provided in the first place is not unreasonable and only good business sense before arriving at any conclusion that will so drastically affect the lives of so many.
Toward that end, they are determined not to just rollover and accept the proposal for what it is.
After all, what other multi-million dollar project would move forward without details of the plan laid out in their entirety upfront for everyone affected, instead of disseminating information on a need-to-know basis?
Among the questions parishioners would like answers to are: What is the estimated cost of the proposal, (i.e. churches, schools, parsonages, land, utilities?) What will happen to Lutheran Church of the Cross located adjacent to Holy Cross? Are there any land coverage issues? Has the project been reviewed, discussed with West Fargo city officials? Will the Holy Cross site hold a 1,200 seat church, school, parsonage and parking? What type of issues will parking and ingress/egress to the lot generate? Are there any concerns with water and sewer service capacity? Is the diocese aware of all the social programs that are going on at Blessed Sacrament? Have the growth aspects of West Fargo to the north been considered, including a 500-home development proposed for north of 12th Avenue North and redevelopment targeted for the old part of town?
May has been indicated as the decision-making milestone, so it is a little too early to tell how this scenario will play out as Diocese officials have stated that the plan is not yet set in stone.
Church officials and parishioners on both side of the fence point out the extreme importance of respective parishes providing input to help arrive at that clarity necessary to make the decision.
Because they perhaps have the most to lose, the parishioners at Blessed Sacrament have been the most vocal in their resolve to plead for what they believe is right - the continuation of their parish and worship services and extended programs at Blessed Sacrament, which also claims a debt-free building and facilities that are in excellent shape thanks to ongoing maintenance, upkeep and nurturing at just the right times guided by the vision of progressive church laity leaders.
What I am hearing from Blessed Sacrament parishioners out there that are willing to comment on the matter, is they are opposed to this venture, and there is an extremely bad taste remaining over how the proposal came to light and was introduced to them out of the clear blue during regular worship services. One told me that she has been attending the parish for over 50 years, and her hope is to still be a parish member at her life's end, so her service can take place there.
On that note, all parishioners at Blessed Sacrament are encouraged to take the time required to get involved with this issue in an effort to gain the information and understanding that is currently lacking, and also to make their concerns heard loud and clear. That is only going to happen through mutual respect and a willingness for open dialogue by church leaders and laity in arriving at the best resolution to this issue, for the good of the whole, not the wants or needs of a few.
Parishioners at Blessed Sacrament say what they are seeking is "for church leaders to respect them as people, offer the care that should be afforded to ease their fears and concerns, and consider their requests in earnest, all the while praying for a positive end to the whole issue."
The conversation to this point has only touched the tip of the iceberg. Considering the far-reaching scope of this proposal, it's a given there needs to be and will be considerably more discussions. Parishioners need to be a key part of this process, have each and every one of questions answered to their satisfaction, and then their individual and combined voices need to be heard and taken seriously.
As longtime parishioners, many for several decades, that certainly isn't asking for too much!