October 10, 2014

Two Clark County parishes to be merged, new parish formed

By Sean Gallagher

On Nov. 30, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will have a parish named after St. John Paul II, one of the Church’s newest saints, who was canonized on April 27 by Pope Francis.

The new faith community, located in Clark County, will result from the merger of St. Joseph Parish in Clark County and St. Paul Parish in Sellersburg.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin approved the closure of the two Clark County parishes and the establishing of the new one on Aug. 11.

For the time being, the campuses of both St. Joseph Parish, known to its members and in the broader New Albany Deanery as St. Joe Hill, and St. Paul Parish will continue to be used.

Although Archbishop Tobin finalized the decisions in August, members of both parishes, which are located four miles apart, have been moving in this direction since 1999. (Read the official decrees related to this change)

In that year, St. Joseph Parish began supporting St. Paul School, and many children from St. Joseph have been students there.

In 2004, Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein approved a parish staffing plan that foresaw St. Joseph and St. Paul parishes sharing a pastor.

Two years later, members of both faith communities formed what came to be known as the “Vision 2020 Committee,” which sought to plan the parishes’ shared future.

Don Day, a member of St. Joseph Parish, was a member of the committee that visualized the two parishes coming together in “one church, one school, at one location.”

Day said the planning was in part spurred by the parish staffing plan, but also because of a change in demographics in the area. According to Father Thomas Clegg, pastor of both parishes, the population of the area grew by 20 percent between 2000 and 2010.

“We wanted to be proactive,” Day said.

“We saw what was going to happen. We could see the growth coming in our area. We’re booming here right now. This whole area in Clark County is going to grow dramatically in the next 10 to 20 years.”

The plan set forth by the Vision 2020 Committee was approved by both parishes’ pastors, parish councils and Archbishop Buechlein. It soon resulted in the parishes sharing a business manager.

According to Father Clegg, its strength lies in that the plan was driven by members of the parish, not by its staff members or archdiocesan leaders.

“I think it’s better when it comes from the parishioners themselves, when they take ownership of the decisions, and they’re involved in the decision-making process,” said Father Clegg.

The parishes did not share a pastor until Father Clegg was assigned to lead them in 2013. At that time, he sought to gauge the members’ support for the Vision 2020 plan.

More than 75 percent of the parishioners who responded to a survey sent to them in January said they would accept a merger of the two faith communities.

“I think there’s a strong consensus that this is the best for us right now,” Father Clegg said.

At the same time, the priest recognized that many members of both parishes would prefer to keep their faith community open.

St. Joseph Parish was founded in 1850, and its current church was constructed in 1881 by many ancestors of current parishioners.

“[They] literally built that church from the ground up,” said Father Clegg. “So when they know that their great-great grandfather helped build this church and that this history might seem to them to be getting lost, I think it’s up to us to not let that get lost.

“Regardless of where the new parish is located, we’ll keep St. Joe Hill Church open as a chapel. And it will retain that name. It will just have the designation of a chapel instead of a church. We’ll still have weddings and funerals there.”

Mary Jo Davis, a member of St. Paul Parish, recognizes the difficulty that some members of both faith communities might experience in the merger. But she is looking to them coming together.

“It’s kind of like a marriage,” Davis said. “You’re not losing a son or daughter. You’re gaining a son- or daughter-in-law. It’s just going to bring better things to that relationship. I’m excited about the possibilities that it brings.”

She is encouraged about these possibilities because she saw how members of both parishes who have had children attend St. Paul School together formed friendships.

Davis also likes the name of the new parish.

“St. John Paul had a big impact on a lot of people,” she said. “Having that relevance—people knowing him and remembering him—is a neat idea.”

Father Clegg shared that sentiment.

“I think it’s a great choice,” he said. “He was a saint who lived in our time. I can remember when he was elected. He was so young and vibrant. He had a great sense of who he was as a leader of faith, really challenging people to live out their faith.”

Day sees the new name as one means to build up a broader community of faith out of the two parishes.

“It gives us a new identity as the Catholic community of Sellersburg,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to make everything happen that we’ve visualized. But one step at a time, as they say.”

One of those steps is the plan for both parishes to purchase by the end of the year 30 acres of land adjacent to the campus of St. Joseph Parish. However, no decision has yet been made to locate the new parish on that land.

Wherever St. John Paul II Parish will eventually be located, Father Clegg hopes the new faith community will grow in faith and share the Gospel with others.

“My hope is that we build a faith community that is dedicated to building up God’s kingdom by growing ourselves as disciples, by growing in our walk with the Lord, by reaching out and making new disciples, by bringing in those who maybe have been away from the Church or unchurched,” he said. “I hope that we can grow our parishioners as disciples and make new disciples through that.” †

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