Earlier this week, Bishop Jeffrey Walsh, Bishop of the Gaylord Diocese, officially announced the deletion of St. Rose of Lima parish, in Herron, 10 miles west of Alpena. In this decree, Bishop Walsh cited damage to the Church building due to a fire as well as the reality that this parish has not had a resident priest (pastor) for 40 years. Bishop Walsh reviewed an exhaustive list of meetings, gatherings, discussions, etc., in defense of the closing this parish. He even went so far, in the spirit of Pope Francis, as to state that “synodal listening revealed the need to consider other options”. Is “synodal listening” different from any other listening?
Of concern in the decree (which overall represents the reality of the Diocese of Gaylord and the shortages we have reported on in the past), one of the reasons listed for deleting the parish is the following: “the demographic reality of a small and scattered rural population with no projections of future growth.” Although this certainly can pertain to the demographics of the area, it also seems to be the mindset of some in the Diocese that there are less Catholics and we need to just get used to it. The whole notion of growing the Diocese, evangelizing to bring new Catholics into the Churches of the Diocese, is notably missing. In times past, priests went from house to house, introducing themselves and getting to know the people in their area in the hopes of bringing them to Christ and the Church. Priests would preach (like some protestants still do) on street corners. They would engage fallen away Catholics to encourage them to return to the sacraments.
In the Gaylord Diocese, vocations are disastrously low; no ordinations occurred this year. Also, of the vocations that are present, most are coming from one parish – Holy Rosary in Cedar. Is the Diocese trying to emulate the success of Holy Rosary’s vocations supply? Has Bishop Walsh discussed this with members of Holy Rosary?
The decision to close St. Rose of Lima church may be necessary, but it should be considered in the context of the greater Church and should be a source of reflection and concern. In the short term, if the Diocese were serious about growing the number of faithful, a consolidation of parishes with full-time pastors to lead them (instead of the “pseudo-parish” with a lay person or nun as “administrator”) may be the answer. This should, however, be part of an ambitious effort (seemingly impossible, but with God, all things are possible) to increase the size of the Diocese. If not, we can expect to see more of this, possibly in an accelerated fashion, as vocations and faithful dwindle – a missionary Diocese with no mission. Let us redouble our efforts of prayer, sacrifice, and productive work to grow, not shrink, our Diocese.