BLOOMFIELD – In an effort to lead Connecticut Catholics into a vibrant future, the Archdiocese of Hartford released the results of its long-awaited pastoral plan to media representatives on May 7 at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary.
According to the new plan, as of June 29, 2017, there will be 127 parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford, down from the current 212 parishes, said Father James A. Shanley, vicar of the Office of Pastoral Planning.
As part of the sweeping reorganization, 144 parishes will merge into 59 newly named parishes. Another 68 stand-alone parishes will remain unchanged.
Some of the mergers will involve the union of anywhere from two to six parishes. Many of the newly formed parishes will also maintain multiple worship sites.
At the end of June, 186 church buildings will remain open. Another 26 church buildings will close, meaning they will no longer have regularly scheduled Masses.
Additionally, more than 40 priests are also being reassigned in support of the new plan, according to Archbishop Leonard P. Blair.
Archdiocesan officials cited the changing demographics in Connecticut, lower Mass attendance and fewer priests as drivers for the new plan. Yet change also brings an opportunity, leaders said, to breathe new life into the practice of the faith.
“This is ultimately not a question simply of resources and material concerns,” Archbishop Blair said. “This is a question about the Church’s mission. We have always said that the hope here is for a revitalized, more vibrant Church life.”
The archdiocese used a two-year consultative pastoral planning process that involved meeting with priests and parishioners to respond to their needs and concerns and to incorporate them into the final plan, he said.
“It is complex precisely because we are not trying to apply a cookie cutter to every situation,” the archbishop said.
The Archdiocese of Hartford serves nearly 550,000 Catholics in the counties of Hartford, New Haven and Litchfield, Connecticut.
The mergers and closures will have the greatest impact on the cities of Hartford, New Britain, Meriden, Waterbury and New Haven, where, archdiocesan officials said, the outward migration of Catholics to the suburbs and the influx of new Catholic immigrant groups to the cities warrants the greatest change.
Parishioners of the archdiocese were informed about the new plan during weekend Masses, some just hours before the Sunday afternoon press conference.
Archbishop Blair sent letters to parishioners that were read by priests during Mass. In the letters, he asked all parishioners to “be good neighbors to our fellow Catholics” and to reach out in love to one another.
“The archdiocese is not a structure as much as it is a family of faith,” he explained at the press conference. “That is what we are.”
Father Shanley, the chief architect of the plan, added, “There’s nobody in the Archdiocese of Hartford who doesn’t have a parish to belong to.”
The archdiocese is hoping the newly created parishes – and many other changes it has planned – will help Catholics in the archdiocese move forward into a new future. The aim is to create fuller, more vibrant parishes as well as good matches of priests to parishes.
“What I wanted to do with the pastoral planning was ensure some stability,” Archbishop Blair said. “I can tell you that what we are doing today goes a long way to providing stability in the assignment of priests and in the life of these parishes.”
“By bringing people together where it is indicated, in a responsible and good way, it’s not just about trying to close buildings that we can’t afford or buildings that are only half used,” he said, “but about reinvigorating the community, reinvigorating the priests and people alike.”
As for the 26 church buildings slated for closure, they may be repurposed for other parish ministries such as soup kitchens, or may be sold, based on the needs of the parish and with approval from the archbishop, Father Shanley said. If buildings are sold, “the assets follow the people,” he said, and will go to the parishes.
Church leaders acknowledged the emotional challenge of letting go of former parishes and some church buildings but said it is a necessary path to renewal.
“To try and hold onto something, a structure or a skeleton that no longer corresponds to the realities of today ultimately can be discouraging and diminishing,” the archbishop said. “The point is to revitalize the mission, to really have a sense of bringing people more closely together.”
The speakers cited three recent parish mergers that began ahead of schedule in Hartford, North Branford and Harwinton/New Hartford as hopeful signs of what can come from newly formed parishes.
Archbishop Blair also pointed to a number of recent changes in its central offices as positive steps toward a new future.He noted the transformation of the archdiocesan newspaper into a magazine that is mailed to every household in the archdiocese.
“It fits the mission,” he said, noting that the new publication shares individual’s stories of faith and puts a spotlight on what parishes and people are doing to promote it. “So that’s in the win column for what we’re trying to do.”
The archdiocese is placing more emphasis on youth ministry and striving to spread youth groups to more parishes. It’s also in the process of building college campus ministries.
The archdiocese recently created a new Office of Faith and Culture to address the diversity of cultures and subcultures within its boundaries. Father Shanley counted Catholic immigrants from Korea, Myanmar, and Ghana as well as numerous Latin American nations, as just a few of the new ethnic groups.
Dominican Father Steven Boguslawski, moderator of the curia and vicar general of the archdiocese, explained, “The notion behind it is that culture bears the faith. Each of these groups needs to be attended to properly in order to, you might say in a positive sense, exploit the cultural experience to strengthen the faith and communicate it to another generation.”
Archbishop Blair said he sees potential for Catholics to become more engaged right now as they create new parishes and chart more detailed plans for their own future.
“It is an historic moment. This is not the end of something, this is the beginning,” he stressed. “New beginnings bring fresh life ... because when people can create something instead of just hanging onto things as they’ve been, there’s a certain energy and a grace to that.”
A video of the Sunday announcement may be seen at http://content.discovervideo.com/ortv/video/2017-05-08_15_03_30.mp4
For more information about pastoral planning, visit: StewardsForTomorrow.org.