Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Bishop to decide fate of several churches this summer

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 05/20/2013 9:13 AM

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It appeared in print last week.

The deanery recommends my church be closed or become an oratory.

I'm stuck in the second stage of grief. I'm angry. Sometimes, I toy with acceptance. I recognize that our congregation isn't growing; but mostly, I'm just mad.

St. Francis de Sales is the mother Roman Catholic church of Dodge County. The church history reads that in 1868, a group petitioned for the formation of a church. In 1869, a building was constructed to serve the faithful in western Dodge County.

I don't know when my ancestors started attending church there, but Grandma and Grandpa were married there and buried from there.

Family ties run deep in the congregation. Christmas Eve Mass is my favorite. My cousin, a talented musician and music teacher, comes back and fills the church with instrumental music. I can still hear the sound of her French horn calling us to celebrate.

Several relatives sing in the choir, which fills the front of the church. Many have moved away, but they come home for the traditional Christmas Mass. Families gather in their pews, which have been theirs for years.

It's easy to see our congregation is aging and dwindling. It's occurring across rural Minnesota. Look in our small towns and you'll see more gray hair than bald babies.

So, I can see a reason why the deanery recommends our church be shuttered.

But, I can't agree with the decision.

Just because I'm from a small congregation doesn't mean I'm any less important than someone sitting in a pew in a big church in Owatonna, Austin or Rochester.

The decision by the deanery seems to say that the church wants to concentrate its efforts on the population centers.

That's a trend. Everyone wants to focus on the population centers. That's why we pay close to $40 for my internet service when people in town can purchase it for $19.99. My family pays more for electricity through a rural electric cooperative. We have our own well and are responsible for its repair and upkeep. We have our own septic.

So, because there are fewer of us, it's not efficient to serve us anymore with dwindling priests. Instead, we will be divided between remaining churches, helping to fill their empty pews.

It's kind of like the closing of small-town groceries in favor of big box stores and the consolidation of schools. It's not efficient to be small anymore.

I'm wondering what's next.

Perhaps what angers me most is a statement from the dean of the Austin/Albert Lea Deanery that appeared in the May 7 Post-Bulletin article.

"With a great deal of input from the people in the pews, we came up with a rationale that we submitted from our perspective," he said.

I'm a person from the pew, and I was never consulted. In fact, people who served on the committee were told that the deanery discussions were confidential and not to be discussed with people from the pews.

I don't know which pew I'll land in if my church is closed. Will I bounce from church to church? Will I switch to another denomination to stay in my home community? Will I contribute to the diocesan appeal ever again?

I don't know.

In addition my church, four other parishes are recommended to become oratories or close in our deanery.

The bishop hears the recommendations from the five deaneries in the diocese on May 16. He's expected to make a decision on the plan this summer.