Today I’ll try to answer hard questions people asked back in June about why the Archdiocese did what it did. It is hard for me to answer these questions, because the Archbishop only had to tell us why he subsumed SJB and IHM. Canon law lets the Archbishop leave unsaid why he preferred the option he preferred. So my answers below only my best guess about the Archbishop’s thinking based on public information or the parishes’ records.
If we are to be a NEW parish, why are we keeping the SSP name? Why not rename this NEW entity and forestall the hard feelings of those being subsumed who can claim SSP gave up nothing in this plan? After the announcement of the Mass schedule last weekend, I think it is clear that the All Things New transition means big changes for everyone, current parishioners of SSP included. Everyone in our community will need welcome and compassion! Still, this is an excellent question. If we look around the diocese, in most cases the Archbishop chose to subsume parishes into existing ones rather than make a new parish with a new name. I think three factors contributed this pattern. First, the Archdiocese’s experience with the 2005 mergers showed that a new parish name does not do much to make people feel better. Imagine your favorite mass time at your favorite church just was eliminated. Are you going to feel much better about the transition just by a new name at the place where you now have to go? Second, the priests of Saint Louis asked the Archbishop to choose a parish church whenever he thought the choice was clear. Priests thought it would be tough to start a transition trying to lead parishioners in choosing which church would be the parish church. Third, a new name has costs, and there are advantages for keeping one of the three names. For example, a new name weakens the sentimental connection that some alumni or low-practicing Catholics feel with the community.
How was the decision made to make SSP the main church? Ok, so if we assume that the Archbishop generally preferred to subsume some parishes into others rather than merge parishes into a parish with a new name, and if we assume that the grouping of SSP, SJB, and IHM made sense, why did he pick SSP as name to keep? It’s hard to answer this question because all the three parishes are a lot alike. We all have shrinking mass attendance for the last decade. We have similar numbers for current mass attendance and registered families. In other areas, there are trade-offs. All the parish campuses have real advantages and real disadvantages. In recent years, SSP has the most financial reserves but SJB has the best net income. SSP has a school, but the Archdiocese delayed making decisions about schools because they wanted the decisions about parishes to shape the process for schools, rather than vice versa. So why SSP? My best guess comes from a detail about registered parishioners. Compared to SJB and IHM, SSP has a greater proportion of middle age and younger registered parishioners. Based on that fact, I would guess that the Archbishop thought a community centered on SSP had the best chance of being a vibrant community ten to fifteen years from now.
Why did Our Lady of Sorrows, Church of the Magdala, and Saint John of Arc Parishes right near us merge into a new parish with a new name? The decrees for those parishes mentioned the history of collaboration among the parishes. They all sponsor South City Catholic Academy. Unlike SSP, SJB, and IHM, Our Lady of Sorrows, Church of the Magdala, and Saint Joan of Arc Parishes built working relationships with each other in past years. I would guess that the Archbishop could not subsume two of those parishes into the third without damaging their existing relationships. Or maybe he left the choice of a parish to the new parish family because Our Lady of Sorrows Church is an exceptional building.
Will SJB and IHM lose their names? Saint John the Baptist Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, and Saint Stephen Protomartyr Church - I mean, the beautiful buildings where we pray-keep their names. You can say to a friend after August 1, “I can’t make it to 4:00 at Saint Stephen this weekend, do you want to go to Immaculate Heart of Mary or Saint John the Baptist instead and come over afterward?” The united parish will be called Saint Stephen Protomartyr Parish.
God bless you! Please keep praying