What’s behind the consolidation: Major merger of the Catholic Church goes into effect

HARTFORD -- Starting Thursday, the plan to consolidate parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford officially goes into effect. The consolidation includes dwindling 212 parishes down to 127, meaning 144 parishes are involved in the effort to form59 new parishes.

As part of the process, many Catholics are asked to become part of a new parish rather than one they may have had long-time connections to. There are also 26 church buildings where Mass will no longer be held.

The Archdiocese said the merger is intended to strengthen each new parish and revitalize the Church in Hartford, Litchfield, and New Haven Counties.

“In many of these mergers, one parish or one church will bring the building another may bring the finances a third may bring the people a four may bring the social outreach,” said Fathrer James Shanley, Vicar of Pastoral Planning.

Shanley pointed out that there are several reasons the consolidation was needed, including financial sustainability, a drop in Mass attendance over the last 50 years, and changes to urban demographics and suburban development.

“I think Hartford is actually a little late into this process a lot of other diocese have gone through this either a decade or so ago,” said Benjamin Peters, Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph University. He said the move by the Archdiocese was an expected one.

“From my grandparent’s generation, people were just born Catholic and it wasn’t something… the Catholic Church didn’t have to do much to get people into church. You were just born a Catholic because your grandparents were Catholic and their parents were Catholic,” Peters said.

He explained that the guarantee to have people in the pews is no longer the case, adding there was a significant shift as urban immigrant Catholics made their way out into the suburbs.

“So now we’re two or three generations into that process and so my students, their parents, had no sense that they were just Catholic,” he said.

Peters also explained there’s also a rise in the number of people who see themselves as spiritual, but not necessarily religious.

“The way young people go on Amazon and they pick things they kind of like and put it in their basket I think there’s a sense of spirituality is the same kind of way so maybe there’s some aspects of Buddhism I like some aspects of Christianity I may like,” Peters said.

Recent surveys also reportedly show there is a large number of young people in the U.S. right now who identify them themselves using a new term “nones” or people who don’t feel they’re part of any one religious tradition.

Peters said he hopes the consolidation becomes an opportunity for the church to tap into the spiritual hunger he believes younger generations now have.

“I think so many people today they’re lives are just so full of distractions and so full of noises that they never really have a time just to sort of be quiet and contemplate life a little bit. I think that’s a place where the church could say we have a whole tradition of silence of contemplation of just kind of taking a break from the hectic you’re always on your phone you’re always on social media or you’re always doing something,” Peters explained.

Click link here for full list of closures, mergers.

For many local Catholics,the consolidation will be a painful one. Many feel they are suffering the loss of a local place of worship they feel deeply connected to.

“When you merge a parish it’s not automatic that everybody from one parish… there is a loss there that’s just part of this process there are going to be some people who say if it can’t be in my old parish or my old parish building I want nothing to do with that,” Peters said.

The consolidation was the result of a two-year pastoral planning process by the Archdiocese of Hartford.