ST. LOUIS — The Archdiocese of St. Louis has begun its first phase of transforming the diocese. That transformation will impact the nearly half a million Catholics in the area and hundreds of parishes.
The Archdiocese announced last year it wanted to transform and reorganize the church, calling it the “All Things New” initiative. Now, Catholics have all Lent to fill out a survey and share their thoughts on what they want for the future.
“We love the Catholic church here in St. Louis and the Catholic presence here in St. Louis, but we also realize that we need to have a new mode of communicating the faith in St. Louis,” said Father Christopher Martin.
Martin was chosen by Archbishop Rozanski to lead the “All Things New” initiative. Martin said it’s an examination of the church’s faith and the effectiveness of all the parishes, schools, ministries, and agencies within the Archdiocese.
Martin said over the years, parishioners within the diocese have migrated more west. He said nearly half of the 415,000 registered parishioners practice the faith at 30 western-most parishes. He said the other 200,000 are scattered over the other 140 parishes.
Archbishop Rozanski said the plan will lay out “the most sweeping changes” in the Archdiocese’s history. Martin said he knows the change comes with concern.
“There are going to be significant changes to our footprint, but we’re also being honest with we don’t know what that looks like yet,” Martin said. “Are we promising that every church, so we currently have open on Sundays is going to be open at the end of us? No. Is every school that we currently have going to have children in it? No. But what we’re striving for is to make sure that everybody has access to a vibrance experience church. And then we have Catholic education that’s accessible affordable and actually pays our teachers a living wage they are not currently receiving at the end of this process.”
The Archdiocese is now calling on Catholics to fill out an online survey, called the Disciple Marker Index Survey: https://allthingsnew.archstl.org/Ways-to-Engage/Disciple-Maker-Index
The survey asks questions about a person’s opinions on their parish and faith. The church will also launch another survey in the summer. Martin says they are open to all opinions and do not have a set plan for how things will turn out.
“Some people believe that when I walk into my office that there’s already an envelope that says here’s the plan. Now, convince people that it was their idea. There is no plan. We have a plan to create the plan,” Martin said.
On the other side of the river, a group called “Save Rome of the West,” has organized in response to the transformation initiative. The Archdiocese was once called “The Rome of the West” because it once served many Catholics across the United States. Now, it only serves nearly half a million Catholics across the Saint Louis region.
Jason Bolte is co-founder of “Save Rome of the West,” and says there are about 6 people in the group and expects it to grow even more.
“Save Rome of the West is an initiative to combat ‘All Things New.’ We like to think of it as ‘All Things Old’ because what they’re doing is they’re talking about selling two-thirds of our Parish, closing them, selling them, and consolidating them,” Bolte said.
Bolte attends St. Barbabas Catholic Church near Wentzville. He said the Archdiocese is taking the wrong approach and should preserve all the churches across the area, despite some of them having dwindling amounts of parishioners.
“I understand that these are probably poorly-attended churches, but maybe (fewer) numbers, right?” Bolte said. “I can understand the idea of consolidation. But from a historic standpoint, if in the fact that these are sacred spaces, it’s not a matter of an opposing viewpoint per se as it is I love my church. And I love the churches that exist. This is God‘s holy sacred ground, and I’m going to do everything I can to defend that. It’s not to oppose. It’s to secure and save. I truly I want what they want.”
“Save Rome of the West” also has gotten legal counsel and is working on gathering resources to save Catholic churches potentially at risk of closing.
“When the time comes, and they say, ‘Hey your parish is impacted, and you might be closed,’ we are going to be there for you. We’re going to fight for you, and we will help you through the steps to make sure that your church is not closed,” Bolte said.
Bolte said he plans to hold a “rosary rally” in front of Archbishop Rozanski’s home at the end of the month. He is calling Catholics to come to pray with him and invoke change.