GREENWICH—The leaders of two Catholic churches in Greenwich, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Agnes, are discussing the possibility of becoming one parish with the Diocese of Bridgeport.
Neither of the churches nor the diocese know what the new arrangement would look like yet, but the much-smaller St. Agnes would remain open and continue to operate under the plan.
The details of coming together will be made by a committee, made up of parishioners of both St. Agnes, which serves 200 families, and St. Catherine of Siena, which has about 2,200 families.
“The current status is simply the discernment of the mutual needs of two Catholic parishes that are in close proximity,” said the Rev. William Platt, who was installed as the eighth pastor of St. Catherine on Feb. 3 after the retirement of Monsignor Alan Detscher.
The last reconfigurations in the Diocese of Bridgeport occurred in 2011, when some churches in Bridgeport merged. The diocese has over 400,000 members in 82 parishes across Fairfield County.
But in 2015, as the result of a diocese-wide synod, mergers became part of the diocese’s long-term plan for keeping parishes active, said Patrick Turner, director of strategic planning for the diocese.
“My goal is to help parishes be as vibrant and sustainable as possible,” said Turner, who is overseeing the merger.
The most recent — and controversial — merger in Connecticut occurred in the Archdiocese of Hartford in 2017. Then, the archdiocese revealed an ongoing plan to reduce the 212 parishes in Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven counties to 127 by combining churches and closing others.
For the proposed merger in Greenwich, Bishop Frank Caggiano issues a directive that the plan for the two churches will come from parishioners, Turner said.
“Yes, we look at what other dioceses are doing, their best practices, the road bumps they encountered, but for us here, (Caggiano) has made it clear that we will be going slow and with lots of consultations with the parish community,” Turner said.
“This is about creating a road map for the future of the parishes, a long-term vision for vibrancy and sustainability,” said Turner, who oversaw reconfigurations of parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Currently, St. Agnes celebrates only five Masses a week, including two on Sundays. The much-larger St. Catherine celebrates 16 Masses a week, including four on Sundays, in addition to hosting many parish activities such as gymnastics, lectures, Bible study and plays and performances from the St. Catherine’s Players.
The move would save the parish money, but the diocese has “no way of being able to say” whether the restructuring would save diocesan money, Turner said.
Parishes do not receive funds from the diocese, but they can request financial support in the form of human resource consultants, real estate agents or legal counsel.
Joining together would reverse the split that established St. Agnes in the first place. The church was founded in September 1963 from the parishes of St. Catherine’s and St. Mary’s, and the first Mass was celebrated one year later.
The committee will hold its first meeting in the beginning of March. One idea that has been talked about is a “mission model,” which would be similar to the set up between St. Michael the Archangel Church and its mission, St. Timothy Chapel, in Greenwich.
The Rev. Richard Murphy, associate pastor of St. Michael’s, said the arrangement is like having one parish with two locations. Some identify with one church or the other, while others cross over for convenience.
“It provides for (St. Timothy parishioners) a convenient way of practicing faith, and staying connected to roots,” Murphy said.
The change will be necessary because of fewer priests and smaller congregations, Murphy said.
Turner also believes mergers are a natural part of planning for the future of parishes, given the different issues dioceses are facing: declining number of clergy, financial constraints, fewer parishioners and less pastoral activity.
But the two problems are connected, Murphy said, since people consider the religious life if they are part of vibrant parishes — not ones with low church attendance.
“It gets harder to maintain distinct parishes with their own pastors and staff,” he said. “It’s hard to keep churches viable when they’re more than one-half empty.”
By Jo Kroeker | Greenwich Time