Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton has proposed changing the number of parishes in Hamilton city from six to four.
Bishop Lowe spelled out the need to make changes, the reasons behind them and some thoughts about what it really means to be Catholic followers of Jesus in letters to Hamilton parishes in February as well as during visits to parishes.
The letters have been posted to the Hamilton diocese website, proudtobecatholic.org.nz.
Bishop Lowe explained to parishioners that his “thought”, after prayer and reflection with his advisors, is to move to four parishes with one church each.
They would be the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, St Pius X parish in Melville, St Columba’s parish in Frankton and St Joseph’s parish in Fairfield relocating to a Hamilton North location.
These parishes would be strategically placed to accommodate the expected population growth areas of Hamilton.
“Put simply, there will be two parishes on each side of the Waikato River placed for the outward growth of the expanding city to cater for the next 50 years.”
Bishop Lowe stated his opinion that St Peter Chanel church in Te Rapa become a school hall, that St Joseph’s church in Fairfield be relocated to Rototuna or become a school hall and that St Matthew’s church in Hillcrest be closed (given the availability of other Masses close by). The bishop stated that moving St Matthew’s church to St John’s College “would be a good move if it is feasible”.
He noted that St Peter Chanel and St Matthew’s used to have two or three Masses and a resident priest, now both have one Mass and a visiting priest who lives at Fairfield.
Similarly, Fairfield has one Sunday Mass with priests looking after three parishes.
The bishop invited parishioners to discuss within their communities the “thoughts” he set out and to write to him before Easter with their responses.
From such feedback, he wrote, he would “determine a plan for Hamilton for 2018 and beyond”.
While he acknowledged the sadness that such changes to parishes would involve, he stressed that the retention of the status quo could not be an option.
Bishop Lowe signaled that there will need to be changes in other city parish Mass times too.
He also made mention of his hope to present a major spiritual reflection to the diocese after Easter, given the face of the changing spirituality of Catholic faith practice in the diocese.
Among the other points Bishop Lowe noted in the letters were drops in numbers of Masses being celebrated in some places, the challenges of staffing parishes with priests and the “need to be wise stewards in the upkeep of our churches”.
Concerning staffing by priests, he also noted that “a parish community should be based around the spousal relationship between priest and people gathered around the Lord’s Eucharist”.
“We have been blessed by having the assistance of international priests in our parishes, as we were blessed by the Irish priests of the past,” the bishop wrote.
“The difference is today the international priests are here for a limited time. By the time they have settled into New Zealand, they have only a short time as a parish priest.”
Bishop Lowe noted that the “Who is my Neighbour?” pastoral plan for the diocese — begun in 2014 — will see a number of parishes merge this year.
But up until this point, little has happened in Hamilton city.