Saturday, August 24, 2013

Into the desert: a pastor reflects on the decline and fall of his parish

A moving essay by Fr. Timothy Sauppé, pastor of St. Mary's church, Westville, Illinois, in the Diocese of Peoria: "My last ten burials/funerals with “Fr. Strangelove ... or How I stopped worrying and learned to love the (Demographic) Bomb, NOT!" (Bellarmine Forum, May 14, 2013):
A stranger came into the sacristy after Sunday Mass. In an incriminating huff he said, “I have been away from the area for fifteen years; where are the people? And now you are tearing down the school? I went there as a kid.” I put my hands up to quiet him from further talking and I calmly said, “Let me ask you a question: How many kids did you have?” He said, “Two.” Then I said, “So did everyone else. When you only have two kids per family there is no growth.” His demeanor changed, and then he dropped his head and said, “And they aren’t even going to Mass anymore.”

I never thought I would be asking that question, but since I had to close our parish school, I’ve grown bolder and I started to ask that question more often. When I came to my parish five years ago, the school was on its proverbial “last legs.” In its last two years we did everything we could to recruit more students, but eventually I had to face the fact that after 103 years of education the school was no longer viable. In one of the pre-closure brain-storming sessions with teachers, I was asked what to do to get more students. I replied, “Well, I know what to do, but it takes seven years.” The older teachers laughed, but the others needed me to state the obvious to the oblivious, viz. we need more babies. In my January 2010 letter to my bishop asking his permission to close our school, I wrote:
Bishop, it is with a heavy heart that I request this of you. As you know, priests were not ordained to be closing grade schools, but we were ordained to be Christ in the midst of sorrow and pain, which will be happening as we come to accept both your decision and the inevitable fact that St. Mary’s Grade School is no longer viable. The efficient cause is simple….no children. The first cause is the habitual contraception and sterilization mentality of a good portion of married Catholic Christians–in short the Culture of Death. The final cause is the closure of Catholic Schools and parishes. Bishop, we need your leadership to address the contraception/abortion/sterilization mentality in as forceful a way as soon as possible.
I, and St. Mary’s, closed the school that May 2010. Now three years later, I am razing the school building. It breaks my heart every time I go into this closed school. It is only 50 years old .... Read more >>
[Hat tip to Sir A. Sistrom]


bill bannon said...

I'm missing something. Popes Paul VI..John Paul II...and Benedict each came from three sibling families. There are contracepting families bigger than that. They turned out all right. Did schools close in their area?
I suspect many parents send their children to public schools now because they are already paying for public schools in their why pay twice...especially when Sister X may not believe in Purgatory ( I ran into this). They can teach catechism and Bible themselves without paying in effect two tuitions per year. What is new is that parents know more about house money outflows.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

As a man who has only two children, I recognise in my own self an enemy of Christ.

Sure, I repented; but what I have done has left the Catholic Church much poorer than it ought to have been.

Writing as a know-it-all, Doc, I like your Blog a lot more when my sins aren't the topic.