Decree to merge St Joseph Parish in Owosso, with St Paul the Apostle Parish in Owosso

Having petitioned the Bishop of Detroit, Michael Gallagher, for the establishment of an ethnic parish to minister to the Czech and Slovak peoples of the Owosso area, Fr. Joseph Nimrichter of St Cyril Parish in Bannister, Michigan, celebrated the first lit­urgy for this community, to be known as St Joseph Parish, in June 1922. A church was completed about the time of the appointment of the first pastor, Fr. John Plavi­an, in April of 1923. The Dominican Sisters from Oxford staffed the first two-room school in the basement of the church in 1937. During the pastorate of Fr. John Dan­iel (1941-1972) a new school was opened in 1949 and the new church was dedicat­ed by Bishop Albers in May 1955. Several generations have heard the Word of God proclaimed and preached, been nourished by the Eucharist and the other sacra­ments, and gathered in community frequently to celebrate their faith and to share especially their rich Eastern European cultural heritage. 

This community of the faithful has been a particular source of joy and enrichment to the Diocese of Lansing since its own foundation in 1937. Under the care of their pas­tors, parishioners have lovingly brought their children to Christ by baptism, reared them by Catholic education and catechesis, witnessed their marriages in Christ, and committed their departed to him. 

Owosso, however, has experienced a significant loss of manufacturing jobs and sub­sequent population. The Catholic population has also experienced this decline. For the sake of a united Catholic presence and due to the need to utilize both human and financial resources most effectively for the service of the Catholic population and as a witness to the entire Owosso community, this merger is most beneficial. 

The consultative study that preceded the promulgation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan in 2008 originally provided for the change of status of St Joseph Parish from a Personal Parish to a Territorial Parish since it was no longer exclusively serving the Eastern European peoples. The pastor of St Joseph at the time refused to make this change. After his retirement, St Joseph was clustered with St Paul the Apostle in Owosso in July 2015 under the pastorate of Fr. Michael O'Brien. After subsequent consultation, the merger of St Joseph Parish with St Paul Parish has been deemed the best route to follow. 

This provision was based upon a combination of factors. These factors included the decline in the Catholic worshiping community in Owosso, the reasonable access to St Paul Parish nearby (1.4 miles away), the desire to avoid duplication of services, the spiritual welfare of both of the parish communities of the Owosso area, the more effective spread of the Gospel, the promotion of unity among the People of God, the enhancement of collaborative ministry and the better utilization of the decreasing number of priests. 

Thus, to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel and to ensure the vitality of parish life in the area, with concern for the best stewardship of resources and the right of the People of God to receive assistance from the Church, especially the Word of God, spiritual sustenance and the sacraments, it is necessary to take particular action for the spiritual care of the parishioners of this parish and the good of the diocese. In­deed, this action is motivated principally by concern for souls (Christus Dominus, no. 32) and required for the good of the faithful (Apostolorum Successores, no. 214).

On February 15, 2018, the Parish Council of St. Joseph Parish, after consultation with their Pastor, Fr. Michael O'Brien, who seeks this for the just cause of the unity of Catholic witness and for the good of the faithful, requested the merger of St Jo­seph Parish with St Paul Parish designating St Joseph Church as an oratory of St. Paul the Apostle Parish. 

This matter was brought to the Diocesan Pastoral Council as part of its regular plan­ning process on November 2, 2017, and the members unanimously affirmed such a status for St. Joseph Church once the parishes were ready to move in that direction. As the norm of universal law requires, I have now consulted the Presbyteral Council on this matter (March 20, 2018). Its members were polled individually and unani­mous support was given both for the merger of St Joseph Parish to St Paul Parish and the change of status for St Joseph Church to an oratory. 

Therefore, attentive to canons 120, §1, 121 and 515 §§2-3, as well as the "Proce­dural Guidelines for the Modification of Parishes, the Closure or Relegation of Churches to Profane but not Sordid Use, and the Alienation of the Same" (Congrega­tion for the Clergy, p.n. 2013-1348, April 30, 2013), by virtue of my authority and responsibility as Bishop of Lansing, I hereby decree: 

That the parish of St. Joseph, Owosso, Michigan, be merged (unio extinctiva) with Saint Paul the Apostle Parish, Owosso, Michigan ( cf. can. 121 ). The consolidated parish shall retain the name of Saint Paul the Apostle. 

The consolidated parish shall include the members of the present Saint Paul Parish and of the former St. Joseph Parish, to the extent that the latter wish to affiliate. 

The Reverend Father Michael O'Brien, current pastor of Saint Paul, shall remain as pas­tor of the consolidated parish. He is to foster the pastoral care of the Catholic faithful en­trusted to him, bearing in mind the provisions of canon 519. 

The ownership of all the ecclesiastical goods of the former St. Joseph Parish, which in­clude all its assets and liabilities, is now transferred to Saint Paul Parish under the admin­istration of its pastor. He is to see, in consultation with the diocesan finance officer, that all steps necessary to preserve civilly valid ownership of these goods are taken. 

The current church of Saint Paul shall be the principal place of worship of the consolidat­ed parish. The sacred edifice of St. Joseph, while retaining its title, is now designated as an oratory according to the provisions of canons 1223-1225, and will be the auxiliary place of worship for Saint Paul. Any liturgical rites for the proper functioning of the par­ish may be celebrated at the oratory to meet the pastoral needs of the faithful, as neces­sary according to the judgment of its pastor. 

Before July 1, 2018, the parish registers of the former St Joseph Parish containing the records of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage and deaths as well as parish records and historical documents are to be entrusted to Saint Paul Parish, in a manner determined by the pastor, where they will be faithfully preserved and maintained in accord with canon 535 §1-5. Any registers, records and historical docu­ments that are not required for the continued administration of St Joseph Oratory and the adjoining complex are to be forwarded to the Diocesan Archives. 

This decree shall take effect July 1, 2018. 

I direct that it be given to the pastoral leadership of St Joseph Parish and Saint Paul Parish, and that its contents, especially the dispositive part of this decree, be com­municated to parishioners of both parishes on the weekend of Saturday, April 28, 2018, and Sunday, April 29, 2018. This may be effected by printing in the bulletin of each parish, or by posting in a public space of each parish church. The "Process to Initiate Recourse against an Administrative Decree" is to be made available as need­ed. 

I further direct that this decree be published on the website of the Diocese of Lan­sing (www.dioceseoflansing.org) which will be presumed the official notification of this action (cf. canon 8 §2). 

Anything to the contrary notwithstanding. 

Given at the Curia of the Diocese of Lansing on this the 28th day of April, in the year of our Lord, 2018.