September 22, 2018

Facing the Weekly Reality

The front door to the church is difficult to open. It sticks and needs repair. I have to keep in mind that the church is over 100 years old. As I enter my local parish, the church is dark. Not all the lights are on as it is too expensive. The pews are worn but still serve the congregation. The kneelers have been repaired numerous times. The small table holding the weekly gifts is somewhat shaky and also needs replacement.

The parishioners start to gather for the 5:00 PM mass and while the Church holds approximately 500 people, we normally get about 110 faithful elderly folks. Rain-or-shine, they attend the weekly mass. The scary word in the parish is “funeral” as they are now occurring more frequently than desired. Occasionally, we will get a few high school students but never on a regular basis. Mass is just not something that is attractive to them.

The pastor still celebrates most of the Masses as he has only one backup, a retired priest in his mid-70s that circulates from parish to parish filling in as best he can. Our pastor is not in the best of health and at 73 years of age still does all he can within limits. The diocese is aware of the situation but has more openings than priests. We had two priests for quite some time but lost the assistant priest to multiple vacancies within the diocese.

Our choir, made up of some of the finest people I know, consists of eight people when all members show. We have two deacons who assist when they can as both men are retired educators and are also in the seventies. Servers, like the ministers that assist in the distribution of Holy Communion, will vary on any given Sunday. We usually have one usher who recruits parishioners to assist him with the collection and the presentation of the gifts. At last count, we had only 9 ushers in total to assist with four Masses.

I am not sure if our situation is the reality of all parishes in today’s Catholic Church. We hear of growing vocations and expansion of cathedrals in neighboring cities but little changes. The parish is unfortunately getting older, the school is struggling and has had numerous layoffs of dedicated teachers to match the declining student enrollment. We keep praying that new students will enroll in the school but young Catholic families seem to have relocated out of the neighborhood and also seem to be having fewer children.

Financially, the parish will always struggle as the elderly congregation wrestles with fixed incomes and rising inflation. Every week it seems as it the parish is inundated with requests for money ranging from supporting elderly retired religious, missionary efforts, support for seminarians, and the annual appeal for money that consists of the Bishop’s Appeal.

Our church started a building collection about a year ago to fix and maintain the declining infrastructure which gets worse with each year. People donate what they can but the reality is that the need is greater than the source of funds. How long will our parish be able to stay afloat? There is no easy answer but each year we have fewer parishioners, priests, students and teachers in our school. Reality is not easy.

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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