Shock, sadness, anxiety, and grief are normal reactions when we hear difficult news we weren’t expecting. I am hesitant to use the “hurricane” metaphor because our brothers and sisters in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico know what a real hurricane is like and what we are experiencing in the reorganization of our religious and spiritual lives hardly compares. On the other hand, what we are experiencing in the call to reorganize the parish life of St. Dominic Savio and St. George is a kind of mini-hurricane. There isn’t any loss of life or property, but established routines are being disrupted and that is stressful. An unknown future creates anxiety and there is sadness in the suggestion that we leave places that are familiar to us, that we have long-inhabited spiritually.
The proposal to merge St. George and St. Dominic Savio into one parish with the St. George campus being the center of Worship and Care for the Poor and the St. Dominic Savio campus being the center for Catholic education and lifelong faith-formation is like a mini-hurricane. Real hurricanes are discovered and tracked for weeks before they make landfall and the “storm” we are finally waking to has been known and tracked for 20 years. High winds, storm clouds, and heavy surf were on our horizon in 2005 when we, and other parishes in our area, could not sustain our schools. The Catholic Church in St. Louis is in a period of contraction. Shock, sadness, and anxiety are appropriate emotional responses. We should have begun discussing in 2005 the reality we cannot now escape, but there is a silver-lining in the clouds. We have the opportunity to
choose our immediate future together, rather than have it dictated to us.
It’s true…other parishes aren’t doing what we are doing and so powerful forces are going to overtake them and determine their futures for them. That’s too bad because all the signs are present to take action, but fear holds people back. We live in what is called, “the southeast deanery,” the rough borders of which are the Mississippi River, River Des Peres, Hwy. 44 and the northern border of Jefferson County. 70,000 Catholics live in our deanery and, interestingly enough, there are 35,000 south of 270 and 35,000 north of 270. The 35k Catholics on the south side of 270 are served by six (6) parishes and the 35k Catholics on the north side of 270 are served by thirteen (13) parishes. With the coming priest-shortage, we cannot sustain all these parishes and is one of the reasons why I asked the Vision Team to come up with a solution that included one
priest between the two parishes.
Another demographic influence we have to take into consideration is the fact that Catholics are moving out of our area and yet we have the same number of parishes to serve a diminishing number of Catholics. Everyone is aware of the migration of Bosnians from south St. Louis to the Affton-Lemay area and now onward into Mehlville and Oakville. So, we have the same number of fishing poles cast into a barrel with an ever-diminishing number of fish.
What gives me hope? My experience with Holy Cross Academy. I have hope because I have seen collaboration work and our children benefit every day from the trust our school parents put into the planning process. It is my hope that you will engage with the SDS & StG Vision Team in a similar planning process. Rather than letting fear take over – join us in designing a stronger, more vibrant parish for the future.
Few worry when a real hurricane is weeks away from landfall because they hope it will change direction. When the storm is a week away, people start to make plans, but they still hope the hurricane won’t come their way. Two days before landfall and the storm surge, roads are clogged, grocery shelves are empty and “suddenly” it’s too late to escape the coming disaster. We are attempting to pay attention to the signs in the sky and get ahead of the inevitable. We have some time (“a week”) to prayerfully prepare a move to a safer position.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us
Fr. Paul J. Rothschild