On to plan B.

Beginning July 1, Catholics across parts of Antelope, Boone and Holt counties may be changing their weekend routines.

As announced over the weekend at six area churches, including St. Peter de Alcantara in Ewing, St. Theresa of Avila in Clearwater, St. John the Baptist in Deloit Township, St. John the Baptist in Petersburg, St. Bonaventure in Raeville and St. Boniface in Elgin, each church will soon have only one Mass celebrated per location each weekend.

The new schedule becomes effective July 1 and comes about in response to the Archdiocese of Omaha Pastoral Planning Initiative.

That initiative, developed largely in part due to a declining number of priests in the archdiocese, began in 2015.

Visits to parishes by consultants, parish leadership meetings,  data gathering and listening sessions took place before the Archdiocese announced a preliminary plan in summer 2017.

The 2017 plan included church consolidations, closures and designations as missions or chapels.

St. Bonaventure and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tilden were two churches receiving the announcement they would be designated as chapels, meaning no scheduled weekend masses.

St. John’s in Petersburg would become a mission of Albion, with one mass per weekend.

The plan also recommended several parishes consider forming regional clusters to share personnel, resources and programs.

The announcement was not well received by many Catholic church-goers, resulting in Archdiocesan leaders re-evaluating the process, leading to the current announcement.

According to the Archdiocese of Omaha Pastoral Planning office, a committee looked at rural areas of the diocese as a whole.

The first step was deciding which parishes to group together and estimating the number of priests needed to serve basic parishioner needs per group.

The six parishes previously listed, in addition to St. Francis of Assisi in Neligh and OLMC in Tilden, have been placed into one grouping with the Archdiocese designating two priests for the eight churches.

Fr. John Norman, current pastor of the Ewing, Clearwater and Deloit Township churches, has been assigned head pastor of the six churches and will remain head pastor when Neligh and Tilden join the group. Fr. Kevin Vogel, pastor of the Raeville and Elgin churches, will become associate pastor.

St. John the Baptist in Petersburg was affiliated with St. Michael’s in Albion, but will now join the newly formed cluster.

When will Neligh and Tilden join?

According to Norman, Fr. Pat Nields, current pastor of Neligh and Tilden, will continue to serve in that capacity until he is reassigned, which could be anywhere between one and five years.

“What the bishop has made known is that when Fr. Nields’ term as pastor expires in five more years, it will not be renewed,” said Norman. “If the Archbishop has a need and asks for a move outside of that cycle, it could happen more quickly.”

Does that mean we are now one large parish?

Although the eight parishes will be unified by priestly leadership, each will maintain their own identity and physical plants, including church rectories and social halls.

The institutions’ finances will also be kept independently according to Norman. Parishioners attending services at a location other than their home parish can tithe to the parish of their choice.

“The intention is, if you drop an envelope in the basket, we will get it to the right spot,” said Norman.

There has also been interest in electronic donations according to Norman.

Sacramental records, including baptisms, First Holy Eucharist, marriages and confirmations, will be validated and sealed with each church’s seal.

Who will pay for what?

Expenditures related to all eight parishes will be shared whereas individual expenses will be calculated accordingly.

Parish support of Catholic education will remain as established in 1966. “There is currently no change to the funding model for Pope John Central Catholic or St. Boniface schools,” said Norman.

Salaries for the two priests will be split evenly by the eight parishes.

How long will Fr. Norman and Fr. Vogel be assigned to the new group?

As part of the new mandates set by the Archdiocese developed with the new rural parish groupings, “A pastor is assigned by term and stability," said Norman.

 "An associate pastor does not have the same stability that a pastor does. If I as pastor, am asked to move somewhere else, I have to be willing to resign where I am currently assigned as pastor in order to be given and taken into assignment.” An associate pastor does not have that option and can be reassigned by a phone call from the diocese.

Norman said the Archbishop intends to keep the two paired as a team for the initial six-year term of the parishes, or for as long as he remains Archbishop.

What about other details?

Daily Mass schedules for the eight parishes are yet to be worked out as are office hours, bulletins and communication with parishioners.

Will Mass times change again when Neligh and Tilden join the mix?

Norman emphasized Mass times set to begin July 1 will not change when the additional two parishes are added. He told parishioners over the weekend the Mass schedule was designed to easily accommodate two additional Masses. He declined to announce when the two additional Masses would be celebrated until he is officially appointed as pastor of all eight churches. Norman said he has met with parish leaders from both churches regarding potential and requested Mass times.

What is the new schedule?

Saturday evening Masses, effective July 1:

St. Peter’s, Ewing - 5:30 p.m.

St. John’s, Petersburg - 7 p.m.

Sunday morning Masses

St. Bonaventure, Raeville - 8 a.m.

St. Theresa, Clearwater - 10 a.m.

St. Boniface, Elgin - 10 a.m.

St. John’s, Deloit - 11:30 a.m.

Mass schedules for St. Francis, Neligh and OLMC, Tilden will not change at this time. During the months of January, February, June, July, August and December, Mass is celebrated Saturday evening at 5 p.m. in Neligh and 7 p.m. in Tilden and at 10 a.m. in Neligh and 8 a.m. in Tilden on Sundays.

Norman and Vogel, with assistance from parishioner teams from each church, finalized the schedule last week, which was approved by Archbishop George Lucas.

"Frequently Asked Questions" brochure, given to parishioners over the weekend.

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