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Catholic parishes looking at major reorganization

Some big changes could be in the works for local Catholic congregations.

Bishop Samuel J. Aquila of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo announced a proposal to metro area priests over the weekend that will restructure parishes and catholic schools in West Fargo, Horace and Fargo, with the focus on "ensuring the most effective proclamation of the Gospel in the Fargo metro area."

Formulated by a review team of diocesan and school staff and Bishop Aquila with guidance from a consultant and input from consultative groups, the plan calls for: the merger of Blessed Sacrament and Holy Cross Churches, with Holy Cross's worship space expanded, leading to the eventual closure of Blessed Sacrament; the relocation of St. Benedict's parish in Wild Rice to a new facility at undeveloped property owned by the Fargo Catholic Diocese on County Road 17 and 64th Ave. S., Horace; and the clustering of St. Mary's Cathedral and St. Anthony of Padua parishes in Fargo, that would see the sharing of one pastoral staff.

The proposal also calls for changes to the Fargo Catholic School network that would involve realizing two additional K-5 elementary schools. Two are currently located at Holy Spirit and Nativity in Fargo. The proposal would see an elementary school added to Holy Cross Church, with the capacity for one classroom per grade level, and another to St. Benedict Church at the new property site, with the capacity for two classrooms per grade level.

The proposal comes after an extensive study of demographics, economic, parish and school information, in response to population shifts in the metro area. Information gathering for a parish, seminary and school review has been ongoing since June of 2010, from which two findings consistently emerged - population continues to move toward and grow within the area to the south and west of Fargo; and that the population includes a large number of children, pointing to the need for a more focused parish presence as well as an increased Catholic School presence.

Parishes included in the review were: Fargo: St. Mary's Cathedral, 567 families; Holy Spirit, 1022 families; St. Anthony of Padua, 900 families; Nativity, 1647 families; Sts. Anne and Joachim, 1318 families; and St. Paul's Newman Center, 61 families; West Fargo: Holy Cross, 1194 families; and Blessed Sacrament, 639 families; St. Benedict's, Wild Rice, 215 families; and St. Maurice's, Kindred, 107 families.

All parishes will be affected by the proposal by having their parish boundaries refined; and by participating in the Catholic school system subsidy at a common percentage of budget, transitioning to that point over time.

The five Fargo parishes currently contribute; the new proposal would also bring Holy Cross and St. Benedict's into the subsidy fold, making for a more unified school network sponsorship.

The proposal was announced to metro areas priests on Jan. 15 and parishioners at respective churches were informed during weekend worship services.

Also being studied is the future of the Cardinal Muench Seminary facility in Fargo, which will see the discontinuation of the seminary program in May of this year; and the organization structure of the diocesan offices, with no proposals in place yet regarding these two areas.

Msgr. Joseph Goering, vicar general for the Fargo Catholic Diocese, said the proposals are not yet set in stone and that two series of meetings have been set in February for further input and consultation from parishioners, Catholic school families and staff.

"The whole purpose at this point is to bring clarity to the proposals," Msgr. Goering explained.

The first meetings will provide an initial overview with question and answer time. The second series of meetings will address the proposal more deeply, looking at benefits as well as concerns and providing the opportunity for refinement. The series of three weekly meetings will have the same information repeated so it will only be necessary to attend only one.

Meeting dates and locations are: Tuesday, Feb. 1, 7-9:30 p.m., St. Anthony's social hall; Thursday, Feb. 3, 7-9:30 p.m., Sts. Anne and Joachim's social hall; Feb. 5, 9 to 11:30 a.m., Holy Cross Crossway Center; Tuesday, Feb. 15, 7-9:30 p.m., Holy Cross Crossway Center; Thursday, Feb. 17, 7-9:30 p.m., St. Anthony's social hall; and Sat., Feb. 19, 9-11:30 a.m., Sts. Anne & Joachim's social hall. Everyone is encouraged to attend and provide feedback.

A final decision regarding all the areas being reviewed is expected to be announced in May.

If the proposal is approved, Msgr. Goering said the merger process for Blessed Sacrament and Holy Cross will begin in the fall of 2011, with Pre-Kindergarten offered for the 2011-2012 school year, making use of space there until the elementary school is realized. The expanded worship space would expect to be developed by 2013.

Msgr. Goering said the comments he is hearing very early on have been supportive. "We have heard some excitement about the elementary schools. I think there are some great possibilities. The data shows the growth and that there are young people to be served and we want to be there."

The Catholic Diocese of Fargo encompasses the eastern half of North Dakota, serving more than 85,000 Catholics through its 132 parishes.