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0000017c-83f8-d4f8-a77d-b3fd0cf60000On August 9, 2018, the dedication and ribbon cutting were held for the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences in downtown Evansville. The facility will house numerous health professions programs for the University of Evansville, the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana University Medical School Evansville campus. The programs will work side by side to create a transformational approach to health care and medical education.

Summer socials in full swing, despite parish mergers

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Cass Herrington
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WNIN News

For Evansville Catholics, no summer would be complete without church socials. This year, a few church communities hosted their last socials before they merge to form new parishes.

Eight of the ten mergers planned for this year took effect July 1, the Diocese of Evansville’s Director of Communications Tim Lilley said.

At Sacred Heart's social Sunday, parishioner Randy Weber was working the "big wheel" booth, akin to a Wheel of Fortune chance game. Weber said he was "born and raised" at this church.

"I was an altar boy, then a lector, then I was the lead tenor in the choir, and I've been running the big wheel at the social for 31 years," Weber said.

But this will be his last summer working Sacred Heart’s social, at least as a singular parish. The church is merging with Saint Boniface and Saint Agnes.

“It’s kind of a relief. I’m glad we’ll have three groups of people that can come together that have been putting on socials after all these years,” Weber said. “But I hope we can work together in the idea that no one has the upper hand over one parish.”

Mergers also require that parishes share facilities, mass times, priests and finances – which can pose emotional stress to parishioners, like at the newly-formed Parish of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Its merger was effective July 1, when Christ the King and Holy Spirit Parishes combined.

Annunciation's merge committee formed a “grief and transition” subcommittee to help ease the pain for life-long congregation members.

Annunciation’s pastor, Alex Zenthoeffer, says the change may be painful, but it’s necessary.

“Yeah you know change is always a difficult thing, especially in a German town like Evansville, we kind of resist change as much as we can,” Zenthoeffer said. “But the fact is that we have to keep moving.”

The diocese says the mergers are taking place due to the changing demographics and development patterns in Evansville. More people are moving into the suburbs, yet churches and parishes remain in the city’s core. While there has been a decline of priests in recent years, the diocese says the current number of priests is nearly identical to what it was in 1950.

“We’re hesitant to say it’s a shortage of priests, but given the number of parishes that we have, things are a little bit tighter now for the priests that are actively serving,” Zenthoeffer said.

Zenthoeffer leads mass at both church buildings, but now those two churches house one parish community, Annunciation of the Lord. And with the merger, that newly-formed parish assumes financial liabilities, too.  

“Christ the King’s overall financial health was certainly a lot better than what we had at Holy Spirit,” Parishioner Tom Falkenstein said.

Falkenstein helped manage the finances for the merge committee between the two parishes. He says Holy Spirit has unresolved debt to the diocese.

“Is it fair to suddenly put the two together and ask the previous Christ the King parishioners to repay the debt? Honestly, that has not been one hundred percent resolved yet.”

Tim Lilley, the Diocese of Evansville Communications Director, said none of the mergers were financially-driven, and in the case of Annunciation, the liabilities and debt are the new parish’s responsibility. 

But Falkenstein said that wasn’t the most quarrelsome issue that came up during merger committee discussions.

“The thing that was the most contentious was the mass schedule,” Falkenstein said. “The times changed a little bit, and we had a number of folks that were really upset that Christ the King didn’t have an eight o’clock Sunday morning mass anymore.”

He says planning the joint summer social appears to be less contentious. The two parishes hosted their last separate ones in June.

“I didn’t get the sense that this was the last hurrah,” Falkenstein said. "We will have a social next year but we still have to wrestle with what it looks like going forward.”

But he says, at least they’ll have twice the people to make it happen.

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