Downsizing Is Part of Life

21 May

My household has undergone quite a transformation over the past couple years. First, my mother Eileen, who had lived with our family since 1993, passed away in 2009. Later that year, my oldest daughter Brenda, with her darling young daughter in tow, married a remarkable young Catholic man, and they eventually settled in Wamego.

Then last year, upon graduation from St. James Academy, my daughter Sr. Mary Kate entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I miss the four generations of Suprenant women who have, in their own way, gone on to bigger and better things.

There are still six of us at home, but we can see that some changes are inevitable. Since our household has “downsized” by 40%, our house has suddenly become too big. We no longer have any preschool children, and another daughter will graduate from high school next year. At some point, my wife and I will have to move into a smaller home. Even before that, we see subtle changes taking place, as holiday gatherings or family reunions increasingly take place at Brenda’s home or at Sr. Mary Kate’s community.

The bittersweet changes that take place in the context of family living are, in my estimation, the best way to make sense out of parish mergers and closures, which are very much a part of the Catholic landscape today.

To the extent that parish closures are the result of Catholics’ not living and passing on the faith, then they are a form of penance to reawaken in us a living faith.

Often, however, it’s simply a case of shifting demographics. For example, I once lived in a town in Ohio that, because of the decline in the steel industry, saw its population shrink from 70,000 to 20,000 (about the size of Gardner, KS). It was understandable that the bishop would think that eight parishes in town were too many, yet even then it was a very difficult task to close parishes with strong ethnic roots. Maybe they weren’t all the most vibrant Catholics, but that was where their family was baptized, married, and buried. Even though the “numbers” demanded closure, it was still a very painful process.

In my work with national Catholic organizations, I have seen this play out time and time again. It’s never easy.

It is true that the raw number of lay Catholics in the country is at an all-time high. But how many lay Catholics (rhetorically speaking) are Christian disciples who strive to put Christ first in their daily lives? How faithful have we been in imparting a living faith to our children? How open are we to a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life–for ourselves or for our children? In most cases, if there were enough priests to go around, parishes wouldn’t need to be closed.

We can’t take the Church for granted any more than we can take our own family for granted. In both cases, we must be instruments of family growth and unity even as we downsize our homes or shift parish boundaries.

In all this, I think of the closing this summer of St. Joseph parish in Lillis, located in the Nemaha/Marshall Pastoral Region of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. My heart goes out to all the parishioners there, especially those with family ties there dating back over a century. My prayers are with them, and I hope that the neighboring parishes are not only welcoming toward the former parishioners of St. Joseph, but that they will go out of their way to reach out to them and welcome them home.

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