Merrillville parishes move toward shared vision for local church

MERRILLVILLE – Earlier this year Bishop Robert J. McClory commissioned a steering committee to work with clergy and lay leaders from the five Catholic parishes in Merrillville to assess the current landscape and develop recommendations for the future. After months of collecting data and conducting a series of meetings, parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation, Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Andrew the Apostle, St. Joan of Arc and St. Stephen, Martyr now have a clearer picture of what the Catholic Church will look like in their community moving forward.

      While each parish possesses unique strengths and committed parishioners and clergy, an analysis of data revealed a multi-year downward trend in key metrics, including Mass attendance, parish registrations, and participation in the sacraments, as well as a decrease in ministry.

The steering committee considered and evaluated several parish models, leading to a recommendation to unify the Merrillville Catholic Community. It was determined that a collective vision would best support the spiritual needs of the faithful and maximize collective talents and resources. Copies of the group’s recommendation, along with supporting documentation, is available at each parish.

      After prayerful reflection and consultation, Bishop McClory recently announced that he is accepting the recommendation to transition to a one-parish model with a Catholic school that will provide for the spiritual, sacramental, and pastoral needs of Catholics in the Merrillville area. The newly formed parish will be supported by two priests and will include an additional worship site. The main worship site for this consolidated parish will be Our Lady of Consolation and the auxiliary worship site will be St. Andrew the Apostle, providing a Catholic presence north and south of U.S. 30. The complete implementation of this transition is expected to take place over the next few years, occurring in phases.

      “I recognize this announcement will affect people differently. Some people may experience feelings of loss and anger,” he wrote in a letter that was shared with parishioners the weekend of July 10-11. “Other people may see this model as a new beginning, creating opportunities for growth and vitality for the Catholic presence in Merrillville. Your early and intentional engagement will be key to the success of this process, ensuring that all voices are heard, and desired results are achieved.”

      Bishop McClory added, “Please know that I am committed to walking with you in this process. We are all seeking the Lord’s guidance, wisdom, and strength so that the Catholic Church in Merrillville will always be a vibrant, caring, and disciple-driven community. You can be confident of my abiding prayers for all the members of the parishes in Merrillville during this time of transition.”

      It was expected that Bishop McClory would appoint a new pastor for St. Andrew the Apostle to lead the transition process and collaborate with Catholics in Merrillville for spiritual, sacramental, and pastoral care and to support Aquinas Catholic School. That pastor will also be assigned as administrator of Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Joan of Arc. It has now been announced that Father Ted Mauch, current pastor of St. Joseph in Dyer, will assume this role in September.

      “Once he arrives, I would hope that the leadership (pastoral councils) from all of the parishes would meet and so begin the ‘getting to know you’ process,” said Father Peter Muha, pastor of Our Lady of Consolation. “I am sure that we will find many ways to collaborate as we move toward the eventual melding of our ministries as one parish.”

      In 2022, or possibly later, the pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle will become the pastor of Our Lady of Consolation, leading to the eventual merger of the parishes. To provide needed assistance, Bishop McClory will assign an associate pastor to serve in Merrillville. Our Lady of Consolation will be the principal site for ministry.

      “It certainly makes sense that Our Lady of Consolation will become the main parish in Merrillville given the seating capacity of our church as well as the potential uses of our hall and the rest of our Parish Activity Center,” said Father Muha. “The central location of the parish facilities between Merrillville and north Crown Point will provide a great "hub" for the Catholic community in this area.”

      “Everyone who belongs to the five parishes will need to be patient with the process,” he continued. “Mergers of any kind rarely move quickly. Moreover, Catholics identify very personally with ‘their’ parish. Letting go of that identity can be painful and involves grieving a great loss. We need to have great compassion as we accompany each other on this journey. On the other hand, there should be great excitement regarding the possibilities that lay ahead. The same Holy Spirit who guided the discernment process will also guide us through the implementation.”

      St. Joan of Arc will become a ministry center, providing appropriate space for ongoing ministry. At an appropriate time in the future, the St. Joan of Arc campus will discontinue being used. After completing the required canonical processes, Ss. Peter and Paul will also discontinue being used.

      When Father Michael Maginot is no longer able to serve as administrator at St. Stephen, Martyr, the parish will be merged into the community at Our Lady of Consolation and St. Andrew the Apostle. In anticipation of this eventuality, St. Stephen, Martyr parish will begin collaborating with the other Merrillville parishes.

      Michael Wick, diocesan chief of staff and a St. Joan of Arc parishioner, said throughout the discussion that resulted in the proposal presented to the bishop on June 1, the committee was reminded to trust the process and to identify what would be best to strengthen the Catholic presence in Merrillville.

      “We were encouraged to focus on the future – what we could create for our children and grandchildren,” Wick said, “The model that was accepted is truly something that will serve as the blueprint to form a dynamic disciple-driven parish that will unfold over the next few years and that will serve as a legacy of love for generations to come. While this is certainly painful for some to embrace, each of us must now become an integral part of this transformative process.”