In July, Bishop Leonard Blair decreed Liberty St. Andrew and Bascom St. Patrick churches to become one Catholic parish, Sts. Patrick and Andrew. The new parish also got a new pastor, the Rev. Timothy Kummerer, a Tiffin native and Calvert graduate. Assisting him are Deacons George Miller and John Walter.
Because only a few miles separate St. Andrew and St. Patrick churches, the two congregations had been collaborating before the consolidation. In 2000, St. Andrew started having quarterly joint parish council meetings with St. Patrick. The financial accounts for St. Patrick and St. Andrew were merged in July.
"One of the hardest things for people right now is getting used to the name change - St. Patrick's Bascom and St. Andrew's Liberty. ... It's confusing going with the two names," Walter said.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
The new parish’s team, from left, are (front row) Cindy Brickner, Lorrie Seiple, Regina Wagner, Leslie Brenmen and Kathy Reinhart; (second row) Deacon Lewis Reinhart, Deacon John Waller, Father Tim Kummerer, Deacon Floyd Hohman, Deacon George Miller.
That is especially true when determining which is the venue for a meeting, funeral or other service. The fact Liberty is not an actual town and not the name of a religious figure also makes it more difficult to use as a reference.
Another issue is church records.
Once a parish, such as St. James, ceases to exist, their records are to be sent to the diocesan archives in Toledo. Now that St. Patrick and St. Andrew no longer are separate parishes, their books are to be transferred to the diocese. If someone wants a baptismal record from All Saints (formerly St. Boniface), he or she cannot get it at All Saints. The staff must contact Toledo to obtain it from an archivist.
"All of the books from back then are up in Toledo," the pastor said. "The only records we have are for All Saints, the parish that began in 2002."
"It really gets complicated. A (Catholic) marriage can't go unless you have that baptism certificate or a copy of it," Miller added.
Looking to the past
Kummerer said he has found it fascinating to explore the histories of the small parishes he serves. He learned the original St. Patrick church was built on CR 18. After a fire destroyed the church, it was rebuilt on the SR 18 site. Some families who didn't like the move started going to Fostoria.
In the earliest days of the parish, the congregation depended on missionary priests from the Diocese of Cleveland who came by horse and buggy and, later, by train.
"They'd come once a month for Mass and the families would gather in their homes on Sunday to pray together. We started that way and we grew that way," Kummerer said.
Walter and Miller have been helping Kummerer to "learn the ropes," even as they make their own adjustments.
Ordained a deacon at age 42, Miller has transferred from place to place as the diocese reconfigured its parishes. He started his ministry at Kansas St. James, which was paired with St. Mary Millersville for a time. When St. James was closed permanently, Miller registered at St. Andrew. Now, his parish is Sts. Patrick and Andrew.
"I still consider myself the new kid on the block, even though I'm starting my seventh year (as a member of Liberty)," Miller said. "When I introduce myself ... it's 'from Sts. Patrick and Andrew.'"
Efforts for inclusion
Larry Lucius, president of Sts. Patrick and Andrew Parish Council, has been trying to obtain input from both congregations.
Lucius said he has learned to limit those who tend to dominate discussions and draw out comments from people who may not be very vocal.
"What works good for me a lot of times is to say, 'Are we ready to adjourn?' That gets people to say 'We're not done yet,'" Lucius said.
Miller said he has made a deliberate effort not to show favoritism to any church. Walter said having Miller involved early on made the transition easier. Walter was ordained a deacon Sept. 18, 2011. On occasion, Miller and Walter help out at All Saints, as well.
Deacons take more duties
With the shortage of priests, deacons are being asked to do more in their respective parishes. Kummerer said the formation program for the diaconate also is more demanding. Younger men with active families may hesitate to commit themselves to such training and expense. Retirees may have more time for ministry, but they also have fewer years in which to serve the church.
"Floyd (Hohman) and Lewis (Reinhart) at All Saints are ready to step back from things, and I have nobody to step in, in their place. Some of the things will take an ordained minister but many of them don't," Kummerer said. "We need more deacons but we need more lay people who are assuming responsibility in the active life of the church ... it's going to take every active member doing what they're able to do to the extent they can do it."
For the priest to focus on celebrating the Eucharist, lay parishioners are needed to prepare children for the sacraments, teaching classes, lead Bible studies, keep records and handle other parish ministries.
His pressing need now is someone to plan funerals.
Walter said three people at All Saints are in lay ministry formation. Although that is the first step to becoming a deacon, it is a program for everyone serving in parish leadership roles. Father Tim said participants can advance from there to the diaconate.
"The program for the diaconate is more demanding (now) than what it has been in the past. Unless you're retired and your family is raised, I don't know how many younger men, who are working full time and raising their families, would have the time to dedicate themselves to that kind of ministry formation. In one sense, we've kind of become dependent on men once they retire," Kummerer said. "It's good training but it's become more demanding and in doing so, I think it has limited the kind of guys we can attract to the ministry."
Miller said if the formation program had been as vigorous then as it is now, he would not have become a deacon. He also observed the number of Hispanic men entering ministry has decreased. Kummerer agreed the Catholic church is losing Hispanics to evangelical churches, partly because few Hispanic ministers are available to draw in others of their heritage.
"There are some stumbling blocks and some hurdles in that (training) process," Miller said.
Making the best
The three clergymen are trying to "play the hand they have been dealt," but it continues to be a challenge. Miller said the diaconate could use more Hispanic men, because Hispanics are leaving the church.
Also, the reconfiguration of parishes has alarmed and saddened many Catholics. Kummerer said some still are practicing their faith, but they have not registered at another parish for fear it, too, will be closed. Collections are down because worshipers are unsure where to donate. Kummerer believes the Catholic church in the United States must take creative measures to survive.
"I served for eight and a half years in Zimbabwe with our diocesan mission, where we had 27 different communities we ministered to ... We were able to operate out of a very different vision of church, a different structure of church, that allowed those communities to thrive without the presence of a priest, much in line with how things used to be when we were a missionary territory in the Diocese of Cleveland," Kummerer said.
He said no parishes would have needed to be closed if the U.S. bishops had returned to such policies. Kummerer suspects the late Bishop James Hoffman purposely sent diocesan priests to mission parishes to learn creative ways of managing changes in the church. Kummerer said he has been reading about methods other small parishes have used when they were combined into larger ones.
"People in the cities don't understand how the roots (in small parishes) go back five or six generations," Miller said.
In some ways, the diocese already has reverted to some patterns of the past. Kummerer does not live in Bascom. His duties include serving as pastor for All Saints Parish in New Riegel, where he also resides. Lucius said he has attended services at many area churches and even at the Vatican, but he still considers St. Andrew "my church."
"Besides, Adam and Eve (Brickner) are buried across the road," Lucius said. "It does go back a lot of generations."
Catholics consolidated into "mega-parishes" often miss the small, Christian communities in which everyone knew each other. Kummerer believes there must be a way to preserve the spirit of those intimate groups. St. James parishioners, whose church was demolished, have opted to separate themselves from the Diocese of Toledo and continue meeting at a different location.
"In my mind, I keep thinking, what about those folks in Kansas? ... How can we do this better together? What we want to do is not destroy that deep connectedness and those family roots and those places where the Catholic faith is so infused in their families they can hardly understand themselves outside of it. Some of that is what we want, what we desire," Kummerer said. "I'm convinced I want to move slowly. A lot of stuff here is real, real good ... we want to take as much of that with us as we can."
The changes have turned some people away from Catholicism and confused many others.
When Frenchtown lost its Sunday Mass, the census numbers for All Saints dropped by about 200 people. Kummerer said St. Patrick/St. Andrew lost about 100 people attending Mass on the weekends because of the time changes.
"They're still meeting their Sunday obligation. They're still receiving Eucharist, but they're not doing it with the community that is important to them. That's painful," Kummerer said. "Even parishes that haven't had to merge or reduce Mass times ... they've lost in their census, too. People don't have the same kind of rigorous commitment to faithful Sunday Mass attendance."
The pastor theorized some former Kansas St. James parishioners still are coming to church, but they are not registered at a parish. They may have doubts about the longevity of other parishes. Likewise, people who have been uprooted may not know where to make their weekly offerings.
"Certainly, we're all very positive and very open to what the Lord is doing. I think we have to acknowledge, though, that we've lost a lot. There are a good number of folks who are no longer coming because Mass times have changed, or because they've been hurt by the reduction of the services of the church," Kummerer said.