May 31, 2023 at 4:17 p.m.

Challenges and opportunities

Challenges and opportunities
Challenges and opportunities

By Ben Sonnek- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Parishes on the Prairie to go down to two priests, seven Masses

As the number of Catholic priests has declined in the St. Cloud Diocese, the Parishes on the Prairie Area Catholic Community – consisting of Sauk Centre, West Union, Belgrade, Brooten and Elrosa – has known for months they would likely go from three priests to two. As of last weekend, the diocese made their official announcement: The Rev. Jeremy Theis would be reassigned to another ACC.

Consequently, the parishes will have to decrease their weekend Masses from 10 to seven; after a year, the diocese may require that number to decrease to six.

For the Rev. Greg Paffel, pastor of the Parishes on the Prairie ACC, the changes being made to the ACC feel like undergoing a home renovation while still living in the house.

“We’re still a working and operating set of parishes and a school, but we’re trying to renovate it from within while still living in it,” Paffel said. “It’s kind of messy, and it’s going to take some time for the dust to settle and eventually unpack the boxes again, but when we have this figured out, it’ll be a fresh start for all six parishes.”

Theis will be reassigned to the St. Cloud Diocese’s Disciples of the Mission Area Catholic Community with the Rev. LeRoy Schik. Theis will be moving there June 28 and will minister to the churches of Brandon, Millerville, Parkers Prairie and Urbank, while Schik will manage the Battle Lake, Henning and Maine churches.

Theis has served the Sauk Centre parishes for a total of five years, as well as the parishes of Belgrade, Brooten, Elrosa and West Union as they joined with Sauk Centre in the Parishes on the Prairie ACC. While he will miss ministering to the area – especially Holy Family School in Sauk Centre – he is glad to have met so many people in his time here.

“It’s bittersweet,” Theis said. “It was a real treat to be able to add more people to my life I know and care for, and I’m excited about going where I’m going. It’ll be my first time outside of Stearns County as a priest.”

After Theis moves to the Disciples of the Mission ACC, Paffel and the Rev. Mark Botzet will manage a seven-Mass schedule for the Parishes on the Prairie ACC. There will be three Saturday night Masses for St. Paul’s and Our Lady of the Angels churches in Sauk Centre and at Sts. Peter and Paul in Elrosa, and there will be four Sunday Masses among Sauk Centre’s churches as well as St. Alexius in West Union and St. Francis in Belgrade.

The Church of St. Donatus in Brooten will not have Saturday night or Sunday Masses, but they will remain within the ACC and have Wednesday and holy days of obligation Masses, along with funerals, weddings, baptisms, adoration and more.

As they prepare for their changes, Parishes on the Prairie have been consulting with Lighthouse, an organization that helps ACCs restructure for more efficiency and effectiveness in their work.

“They work with Catholic churches out of the Twin Cities, and they’ve borne a lot of good fruit,” Paffel said. “What we’ve asked them to do for us is to help us recreate an organizational chart to clarify the roles of communication and the structure of who supervises who and what’s getting supervised … and to help us do more with employee culture.”

Two of the principles Rev. Paffel sees as important to develop more in the ACC is a deeper dive into stewardship and more gratitude for the blessings they have. As part of that, they are looking at how they do teamwork between and within the parishes, helping each other accomplish more while duplicating less; the analogy Paffel has been using for this streamlining is that of draft horses.

“If you have a 2,000-pound draft horse, that horse can pull up to approximately 8,000 pounds on a wagon,” Paffel said. “If you have two draft horses pulling the same load, they pull more than 16,000; it’s closer to 24,000 pounds. When those two horses are trained to pull together so they’re working in unison, they can pull up to 32,000 pounds on a wagon, eight times their weight, which is phenomenal. That’s a wonderful image that, if we as six parishes begin to work together and learn how to serve and care for one another, I think we can be much more effective at sharing our Catholic faith and the love of Jesus Christ and the meaning of the Eucharist to our people.”

The Parishes on the Prairie priests will still be able to go on retreats and take vacation time, but it will likely mean some Masses may have to be canceled.

“Father Mark and I will do as many Masses as we can when somebody’s on vacation,” Paffel said. “We’re blessed to have Father Joe Korf and Father Jim Maderak to assist when they’re available.”

Paffel sees both challenges and opportunity in the way the roles of the clergy and laity are evolving in response to the limited number of priests. One of the ACC’s highest priorities is raising up laypeople to be leaders where they are able.

“When we do that, we will eventually find the church has more stability because the laypeople who are in leadership in parishes will not be reassigned by the bishop,” Paffel said. “Amongst the lay leaders, we’ll also have people who come from other places, because they have different expertise, able to share their gifts and ideas to help us grow as well.”

Paffel also believes the reorganization will help illuminate any potential parish voids in a new way.

“(There will be) a revival of the Holy Spirit where we’re going to be awakened again to realize who we are and what we’re about in a more true and significant way,” Paffel said.

Paffel and Theis are grateful for all of the friends who are supporting them and the parishes.

“It was an honor to be here,” Theis said. “The last three years were really good years, and I was blessed by my time here.”


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