November 15, 2019

Coming to a Parish Near You?

It seems as if it does not affect your parish then there is no reason to be concerned. Except when it is yours.

My parish, St. Patrick’s in Chatham, New Jersey, motored along for years not too concerned about the conditions affecting the Diocese of Paterson. Then suddenly, reality hit. The associate was moved from the parish to fill a vacancy at a local Catholic High School. Obviously, the parish expected a replacement. However, the answer was no. The pastor complained and said that a second priest was necessary due to his age. The answer was still no.

And then came the school…

A parish council meeting was held to discuss the declining enrollment at the parish school. In the last five years, enrollment is down by 85 students, thus bringing about a sad state of financial affairs for a school that has been in existence for 145 years. Tuition, already at $9,500 per year, could not go up any more as parents were complaining not only about the cost of tuition but also the fees being passed onto parishioners that, in the past, had been absorbed by the parish. Entering students were declining and based upon the projected numbers, the school would fall below the break-even point in June of 2019. In other words, it would cost more money than the parish had and the school would be operating in the red every day. The parish was now transferring more and more funds to operate the school. The Diocese of Paterson could not help.

Next came a second collection…

The parish decided to have a second collection on the last Sunday of every month for building and maintenance issues. A great deal of necessary maintenance had been deferred but now had to be addressed. The parish again was on its own. Find the money to fix the roof or close that section of the building.

A solution?

With Mass attendance slowly declining, the old 80/20 rule had taken hold. That is, 20% of parishioners were supporting the other 80% who gave the traditional $2.00 per week while expecting all Masses and services to operate at the same level as in the past.

Sadly, my parish of St. Patrick is facing an inevitable situation in the next 24 months. If the pastor gets sick or is unable to perform all his duties as in the past, there are no replacement priests available. There has not been a religious nun or brother in the school in over 20 years. To cope with this, Masses and Confessions will have to be reduced to every other week or even monthly. And for the rare baptisms performed, this will hopefully be accomplished by the only deacon left, who by the way, is retired from his civilian job and living on a fixed income.

Regarding the school, my prediction is that it will eventually close given that the cost of maintaining it is close to the point where there are too few students enrolled to cover the fixed cost of its operation.

I now ask: “Where are the Creasters when we need them.”

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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Written by Donald Wittmer
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