Priest shortage affects parish
4 area churches to share priests
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has announced the second phase of its pastoral plan to reconfigure churches throughout its eight parishes. Parishioners that attend St. Mark in Ama and St. Anthony in Luling will share a priest.
Those that attend St. Gertrude in Des Allemands and St. John the Baptist in Paradis will share a priest as well.
“We’ve selected a committee of five members from the church in Ama and a similar committee was formed in Luling to help with this transition,” Carl Cantrelle, committee member and parishioner of St. Mark, said. “The shortage of priests isn’t anything new. We’ve been waiting for the hammer to fall for several years.”
Candy Ford, secretary for St. Gertrude, says they’re not sure why they were put on the list of reconfigured churches.
“There’s been a rumor that Father James Bach might be leaving, but we love him and we’d hate to see him go,” she said. “The people that were at our meeting two weeks ago are in support of keeping our priest.”
Ford says the committees will decide where the priest will live and what the new mass times will be.
“We were used to having a priest on call 24 hours day, seven days a week,” she said. “So, what will I do when someone knocks on my door and no priest is available?”
Ford says they will be working with St. John the Baptist to begin making the transition.
“The church in Paradis hasn’t met with us yet, because their priest isn’t back from vacation,” she said. “That’s when they’ll form their committee and we can start meeting as a group to make this transition.”
Archdiocesan spokesperson Sarah Comiskey agrees that the priest shortage is not new and acknowledges that the Archdiocese of New Orleans had previously been lucky.
“New Orleans has always been blessed with a strong Catholic community and fortunate to continue to operate as we have for a century,” Comiskey says. “Now, with the impact of a decline in vocations and limited human and financial resources, we have had to make tough decisions about the future to ensure the Catholic faithful have the best pastoral formation and social services available in their parishes.”
Comiskey says the plan is a result of multiple factors, including a declining number of priests available to minister in the archdiocese.
Cantrelle says two years before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, the rumors started to circulate about the change.
“We don’t know the names of the priests that will be taking over,” he said. “The priests that are currently at the churches now are being relocated somewhere else.”
Cantrelle says another rumor that started circulating before the change was that St. Mark would no longer hold Mass and would become a mission church.
“But that was just a rumor,” he said. “We will still be a functioning parish, and have our own religion education classes and our entire administration of parish offices will still be there. We’re just not going to have a priest just dedicated to us.”
Cantrelle thinks that more interaction between youth and the Catholic churches out in the community could encourage the younger generation to become priests and nuns.
“Ask a high schooler not involved in Catholic private school ‘when’s the last time he or she met a nun?’” he asked. “When I was growing up, we used to see them all the time. Now, that’s very rare.”
Cantrelle believes encouraging children to be more aware of their faith starts in elementary school and Comiskey and the archdiocese agree.
“Archbishop Hughes has also called for a ‘full court press’ on vocation education and outreach,” she said. “We need to start with our young children. Doing things like taking them to church on a regular basis nurtures the faith.
“People are losing touch with the Catholic Church because they don’t participate and their children don’t come as often as they should.”
Cantrelle says he knows in other faiths some pastor’s have more than one church, but this is the first time he’s heard of it being done in the Catholic faith.
“In this area, this is new to the Catholic faith,” he said. “I haven’t heard of it being done before.”
But Comiskey says that while it is new to the area, parishes in other parts of the archdiocese have been sharing a priest and it is common in other diocese across the country.
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