Belleville-area Catholics will be relieved to find out that their parishes will not close any time soon, according to the results of a nearly two-year process released Thursday by diocese officials.
However, Belleville parishes will be paired into partnerships, served by one priest. Those parishes then will decide how they choose to share resources and will likely result in some church closures, according to the 52-page Pastoral Plan for Parish Renewal and Restructuring plan.
The plan calls for a way to consolidate parishes so the more than 80 parish priests, many of whom are aging and near retirement, who serve the diocese can be scaled down to just 50 priests.
Here are the partnerships planned for the city of Belleville:
* The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary
* Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady Queen of Peace
* St. Henry and St. Augustine
* St. Luke and St. Teresa of the Child Jesus
All of the parishes have been instructed to begin working jointly immediately and to develop a strategic pastoral model by which each partnership will be served by only one priest. The models are due by Dec. 31.
Those four parish partnerships also have been directed to develop a model for the restructuring of their schools within the same time frame. Every school must meet certain requirements in the areas of academic excellence, adequate enrollment, finances and stewardship.
The plan was released Thursday afternoon after 20 months of meeting with parishes and gathering information from diocesan schools in the Diocese of Belleville.
It impacts every parish in the diocese, although it lists no parishes or schools that are to be closed by a certain date.
"Parishes and schools are to implement the pastoral plan in a dynamic, flexible, gradual manner that is sensitive to each pastoral situation," stated Monsignor John Myler, spokesman for the diocese and the rector at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville.
Members of the Belleville parishes said they were not surprised by the news of the diocese re-organization plan, including plans for parishes to share a single priest.
"The parishes have been clustered for many years," said Grace Marie Mueller, a member of St. Luke's parish in Belleville. "And so (the plan) is another development of that. And here at St. Luke's, we've been clustered with St. Teresa forever."
Pat Gundlach, a member of Belleville's Blessed Sacrament parish, said she was not worried about the future of either the church or its grade school.
"All of our bills are paid. We got a good school," Gundlach said. "I think it's on a solid footing."
The chairman of the committee was Monsignor J. McEvilly, vicar general. The committee met with and made recommendations to Bishop Edward K. Braxton, in response to parish reports. Thursday's report was the bishop's acceptance of many of the committee's recommendations for restructuring and reorganizing the diocese that covers the 28 southernmost counties in the state and includes 121 parishes.
The plan encourages parish partnerships to prepare for a time when only 50 diocesan priests will be available to pastor parishes. That number does not include fidei donum missionary priests from other countries.
If a partnership of two or more parishes were to decide it is in the best interest to close one of the church buildings, it would be a decision by those parishes, Myler confirmed.
However, those parishes may find another way to function under one pastor.
The report mentioned several possible models for the partnerships:
* Two or more parishes merge to become one parish with only church building;
* Two or more parishes merge to become one parish with one primary church building, using one or two of the former churches as chapels for occasional use;
* Two or more parishes maintain both churches (without merging) and develop a "realistic structure" for which they can be served by one priest, making necessary changes to liturgical schedules and joining many parish activities and committees; or
* Other strategic pastoral models proposed to the bishop for consideration.
"In some cases, the process might be relatively easy," Braxton stated in the report. "In other cases, it will be more challenging. In still other cases, the process may be quite difficult. And there may be a few cases where it seems almost impossible. Parishes should not hesitate to contact me or the Vicar General if they encounter seemingly insurmountable problems."
Partnerships are required to make a brief report by Sept. 15, outlining changes and plans for the future.
Formerly, parishes had been grouped into clusters, with several parishes working with a few priests.
The renewal plan also includes restructuring in the diocesan's office.
The plan also outlined requirements for parish schools, which include requiring parish schools to have an enrollment of at least 50 students in grades K-8 and preventing neighboring parishes from providing more than 40 percent of their incomes to schools, for the viability of the parish.
Right now, three schools do not meet the minimum enrollment; they have one year to reach that number of students in order to continue operating. In addition, 22 schools receive more than 40 percent of parish income for financial support; they have up to three years to make necessary adjustments to comply with the new requirement.
The Pastoral Plan for Parish Renewal and Restructuring process began in August 2011 with town-hall style meetings and parishes and diocesan schools evaluating their viability. A committee began studying those results in May.
Leaders had said the results of the plan may lead to the closure of up to 20 parishes.
Other parish partnerships throughout the greater metro-east area include:
* Holy Childhood in Mascoutah, St. Pancratius in Fayetteville and St. Liborious of St. Libory
* St. Clare of Assisi in O'Fallon and Corpus Christi in Shiloh
* St. Nicholas in O'Fallon and St. Joseph in Lebanon
* St. Joseph in Freeburg and St. Agatha in New Athens
* St. John the Baptist in Smithton, St. Michael in Paderborn and St. Augustine in Hecker
* Ss. Peter and Paul in Waterloo and Immaculate Conception in Madonnaville
* St. Patrick in Tipton, St. Mary in Valmeyer and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Renault
* St. James in Millstadt and Holy Family in Cahokia
* Immaculate Conception in Columbia and Sacred Heart in Dupo
* St. Augustine of Hippo in East St. Louis and Immaculate Conception (Lithuanian) in East St. Louis
* Holy Trinity in Fairview Heights, St. Stephen in Caseyville and Holy Rosary in Fairmont City
A total of 15 parish partnerships, combining 28 parishes, were announced for the greater metro-east area. Right now, those parishes are served by 26 priests; the plan calls for 15 priests to serve those parishes.
In other parts of the diocese, the following partnerships were announced:
* St. Dominic in Breese and St. Augustine in Breese
* St. George in New Baden and St. Mary in Trenton
* St. Boniface in Germantown and St. Cecilia in Bartelso
* St. Mary in Carlyle, St. Anthony in Beckemeyer and St. Teresa in Marydale
* St. Theresa of Avila in Salem and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Kinmundy
* St. Ann in Nashville and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Posen
* St. Barbara in Okawville and St. Anthony in Lively Grove
* St. Charles Borromeo in DuBois and St. Michael in Radom
* St. Mary in Mt. Vernon and St. Barbara in Scheller
* Mary Help of Christians in Chester and St. Mary Divine Maternity in Ellis Grove
* St. Boniface in Evansville, St. Pius V in Walsh, Our Lady of Lourdes in Sparta and St. Joseph of Willisville
* St. John the Baptist in Red Bud, St. Patrick in Ruma, Adorers of the Blood of Christ Convent in Ruma, St. Joseph Prairie du Rocher and St. Leo in Modoc
* St. Bruno in Pinckneyville and St. Mary Magdalen in Todds Mill
* Sacred Heart in DuQuoin and Immaculate Conception in Tamaroa
* St. Francis Xavier in Carbondale and Newman Center in Carbondale
* St. Andrew in Murphysboro, St. Elizabeth in Ava and St. Ann in Raddle
* St. Mary in Anna and St. Joseph in Cobden
* St. Joseph in Benton, St. Andrew in Christopher and St. Mary in Sesser
* St. John the Baptist in West Frankfort and St. Aloysius-Sacred Heart in Royalton-Zeigler
* St. Joseph in Marion and St. Paul in Johnston City
* Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Herrin and Holy Spirit Church in Carterville
* St. Paul in Vienna and St. Francis de Sales in Stonefort
* St. Mary in Eldorado, St. Mary in Harrisburg and St. Joseph in Elizabethtown
* St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Ridgeway (formerly four parishes; advised to operate as one parish with three chapels)
* St. Rose of Lima in Metropolis, St. Patrick in Cairo, St. Mary in Mound City and St. Catherine of Alexandria in Grand Chain
* St. Edward in Fairfield and St. Stephen in Flora
* St. Joseph in Olney, Holy Cross in Wendelin in St. Joseph in Stringtown
* St. Lawrence in Lawrenceville, Immaculate Conception in Bridgeport and St. Francis Xavier in St. Francisville
* St. Mary in Mount Carmel and St. Sebastian in St. Sebastian
* St. John Nepomucene in Dahlgren, St. Clement in McLeansboro and St. John the Baptist in Piopolis
* St. Polycarp in Carmi and St. Patrick in Enfield
Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at email@example.com or 618-239-2460.
Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2460.