Decree to merge St Mary Parish in Flint, with St John Vianney Parish in Flint
The Franklin Avenue Chapel was rented in 1918 to service the Polish community on the outskirts of Flint at Murray Hill but only Irish were present. Thus Fr. Laurence Soest was sent to the chapel in 1919 and he served the parish until his death in 1961, having built a new church (dedicated in 1921) and rectory and school. Outgrowing these facilities, a new church was dedicated in 1955. The high school closed in 1970 and the grade school in 1992. 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 the rich Irish 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.
Flint, once a major hub of automobile production, has experienced a significant loss of jobs and population. St Mary's, has a dwindling membership and is now unable to sustain itself on its own.
This was recognized in the extensive consultative study that preceded the promulgation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan in 2008. The Plan originally provided for the merger of St Mary Parish with St Michael Parish in Flint However, after subsequent consultation, the merger of both of these parishes with Saint John Vianney Parish was 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 at St Mary Parish and indeed at the other parishes in Flint, the reasonable access to nearby parishes and their churches, the desire to avoid duplication of services, the spiritual welfare of all the parish communities of the Flint 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.
Today, to this must be added the suffering of the people of Flint and a decline of Catholic mass attendance and sacramental practice in the parishes of the county, which impart special urgency to coordinated efforts for the "new evangelization" in the region.
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 by the good of the faithful (Apostolorum Successores, no. 214).
Having asked parishioners to manifest their needs and desires through the work of the Diocesan Coordinating Commission, under the careful direction of the Office of Pastoral Planning which reviewed the recommendations of the parishes involved and provided the Genesee Regional report, I received, accepted and promulgated the final recommendations of the commission expressed in Planning Tomorrow's Churches (September 15, 2008).
In April 2017, the Parish Council of St Mary's Parish, after consultation with their Pastor, Fr. Thomas Firestone, requested the merger of St. Mary Parish with St. John Vianney Parish designating St Mary Church as an oratory of St John Vianney Parish.
As the norm of universal law requires, I have now consulted the Presbyteral Council on this matter (May 2, 2017). Its members were polled individually and unanimous support was given for the action. This matter was brought to the Diocesan Pastoral Council as part of its regular planning process on June 9, 2016, and the members unanimously affirmed such a status for St Mary once the parishes were ready to move in that direction.
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. Mary, Flint, Michigan, be merged (unio extinctiva) with Saint John Vianney Parish, Flint, Michigan (cf. can. 121). The consolidated parish shall retain the name of Saint John Vianney and the existing boundaries of the St. Mary Parish.
The consolidated parish shall include the members of the present Saint John Vianney Parish and of the former St Mary Parish, to the extent that the latter wish to affiliate.
The Reverend Father Thomas Firestone, current pastor of Saint John Vianney, 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 provision of canon 519.
The ownership of all the ecclesiastical goods of St. Mary Parish, which include all its assets and liabilities, is now transferred to Saint John Vianney 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 arc taken.
The current church of Saint John Vianney shall be the principal place of worship of the consolidated parish. The sacred edifice of St. Mary, 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 John Vianney. 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 November 30, 2017, the parish registers of the former St Mary Parish containing the records of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage and deaths as well as parish records and historical documents are to be forwarded to Saint John Vianney Parish 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 Mary Oratory and the adjoining complex are to be forwarded to the Diocesan Archives.
This decree shall take effect October 31, 2017.
I direct that it be given to the pastoral leadership of St Mary Parish and Saint John Vianney Parish, and that its contents, especially the dispositive part of this decree, be communicated to parishioners of both parishes on the weekend of Saturday, October 14, 2017, and Sunday October 15, 2017. 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 10th day of October, in the year of our Lord, 2017.