The Archdiocese of Philadelphia faces a challenge with their ongoing Pastoral Planning Initiative project.
The Initiative is set up to help decide whether parishes within the archdiocese have the resources needed to remain a vibrant community in their area and in the following of the Church.
When the Pastoral Planning Initiative project began, a year was spent gathering information and demographics from all the parishes within the archdiocese. After the information was gathered it was discussed which parishes would merge with other neighboring parishes in the area.
“The Overbrook area would be Pastoral Planning Area 600 and all of those for the most part are being looked at primarily because of the demographic changes that have taken place,” Robert Miller, assistant director of parish services in support with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said. “In the case of the Catholic Church, the demographics takes the form of the number of people involved in the parish communities but also the sacramental life involved in the community.”
Three parishes are in the process of merging into a single parish in Overbrook. Saint Callistus and Saint Donato are currently merging with the parish Our Lady of Lourdes.
To help parishioners prepare for the change a transition committee was created.
“The three pastors [from their former parishes] identify people who could be part of the transition team and make sure who could listen to the needs to of the whole community and begin to set priorities for the new parish community,” Evelyn Tarpey, facilitator for Pastoral Planning Area 600, said.
Regardless of which parish’s transition committee, the change is a challenge for everyone.
“All of us as humans…we don’t like change,” Michael Rock, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, said. “People are very hesitant and very nervous about the merger.”
Both Saint Callistus and Saint Donato have been in the area for over 100 years. Despite both being Catholic Churches, they were run very differently.
“Saint Donato is a different story because it was a national church,” Rock said. “The sentimentality of going to a church where their grandparents and parents went resonates with them.”
Saint Donato was considered a personal parish because they had an Italian nationality association. Unlike territorial churches, a national church or personal parish allows anyone to join it regardless of where they live.
“My grandparents came from Italy in 1913 and settled here at Saint Donato’s,” Ernie Iovannone, longtime resident and former parishioner of Saint Donato, said. “My mother went to school here and I’ve been going here my whole life.”
Close links to the church due to family and heritage keep many residents near Saint Donato reluctant to join the new parish at Our Lady of Lourdes.
While residents near Saint Donato can still attend weekend mass at the church, members of Saint Callistus have begun the transition from their former church to Our Lady of Lourdes.
Saint Callistus, located at 67th and Lansdowne Avenue, was a territorial church. The reason why it’s being merged with Our Lady of Lourdes is due to lack of producing a vibrant community. As of 2011 the church performed two baptisms, two funerals and recorded a weekend attendance of 128 people.
“It’s a lot of older folks who attend mass here,” Agnes O’Laughlin, resident and former member of Saint Callistus, said. “While I don’t agree [with the merge], I understand why they are merging us with them [Our Lady of Lourdes].”
The church is a preferable to local residents who have the ability to walk to services each week.
“I live across the street so it’s easy for me to get to church,” O’Laughlin said. “I can’t drive anymore so how do they think I will get to mass that far away?”
Members of the former Saint Callistus parish are not the only ones facing the trouble of transportation to the new church. Members from the former parish of Saint Donato’s are dealing with it as well.
“It’s pretty tough for me because I don’t drive,” Josephine Argentiero, former member of Saint Donato said. “Unless we get a couple of parishioners together that have a car or a van to get us there, I don’t think I’ll be attending.”
Both Saint Callistus and Saint Donato are about one mile away from Our Lady of Lourdes. Since transportation is an important issue within the merge, Pastor Rock is looking for a resolution to the problem.
“The one thing I noticed in both parishes is the majority of people there are elderly, so the first thing I did in discussing things with the transition committee, which is made up of people from all three parishes, is we have to set up some sort of transportation system for the elderly,” Rock said.
Whether the parish creates a bus service or parishioners help out with carpooling others to church is uncertain for now. Regardless, the goal is to help those who cannot walk or drive to mass be able to attend services at Our Lady of Lourdes.
“The goal of any pastoral planning is the renewal of the person and deepening their relationship with god,” Tarpey said. “When the mission of the church is renewed and the relationship between god and man is strengthened then it is complete.”