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Hartford’s Catholic leader says consolidation will renew churches

HARTFORD --  Archbishop Leonard Blair is the fifth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford. He's the first, however, to guide local Catholics through a major consolidation.

212 parishes  are shrinking to just 127, 59 new parishes being formed and 26 church buildings in New Haven, Litchfield, and Hartford counties will be no longer celebrating mass services.

"This is not an end it`s a beginning. The best way to hand down the past is to revitalize it and keep it going," said Blair. "The fact that the circumstances of church life change and that there are cycles and historical changes doesn't mean that we don`t preserve our history and cherish it."

Connecticut not alone in this kind of consolidation, "The reality is that the church not only in the Northeast but in the Midwest as well has experienced tremendous demographic changes and social change with regard to the church," said Blair.

A recent consolidation taking place in neighboring New York City,  merging 112 parishes into 55 according to the Pew Research Center.

These kinds of shake-ups also come with big shift in priests assignments. "There will be more parishes now where there will be two priests, they will be bigger, but they`ll be two priests."

The new assignments also meant to free up resources to boost outreach efforts, to try and up the number of men entering priesthood. Those numbers have dropped 65 percent over the last 50 years.

"So the reality is that the call to make a permanent commitment to your life is very intimidating to a lot of young people today and yes the priesthood is suffering from that," said Blair.

The practice of going to mass has also been suffering a major loss in the Hartford archdiocese, dropping 75 percent in the last 50 years.

"How do you engage those people to appreciate it`s not just saying that I believe in God or I`m going to be nice to other people, but that there`s a content to the faith, there`s a participation that`s part of parcel of what it means to be a Christian.," said Blair.

It's a challenge he`s optimistic will be met by the upcoming consolidation.

"I`m also hopeful that instead of having a church that`s one-third full for mass with the same people that have always been there that this will in a sense shake things up a little bit. In particular I`m hoping that young families will feel more at ease and more at home seeing other young families."

"Recently to the Cathedral here at St. Joseph`s we have 700 young people come for Sunday mass and a kind of musical program after. It`s the kind of music that is not necessarily to my taste as an older priest or bishop but the rousing kind of stuff in the Cathedral crypt."

The consolidation plan is set to go into effect June 29.

Click link here for full list of closures, mergers.