Bishop issues decree establishing St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish, Northfield

Bishop Joseph Galante has formally announced  that the parishes of Saint Peter, Pleasantville and St. Bernadette, Northfield will unite and the new parish resulting from the consolidation, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla Parish, will be established May 5, 2010.

The announcement establishing the new parish was made in a formal decree, which is published in the April 2 edition of the Catholic Star Herald, the diocesan newspaper.

The decree states that consolidating the individual communities and uniting them as one new parish is necessary to provide more effectively for the pastoral needs of the faithful, to assure the vitality of parish life, to provide for a better stewardship of resources, and to provide for the optimum use of clergy, religious and lay personnel.

Father Patrick J. Brady, who has overseen the consolidation as Priest Convener, has been named pastor of the new parish for a six year term.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla Parish, whose boundaries will be those of the existing parishes, will serve about 1,900 families. The seat of the parish will be Saint Bernadette Church.

The existing parishes are about two miles apart. Saint Peter Parish was established in 1913 and, at the time, encompassed Pleasantville, Absecon, Northfield and Linwood. St. Bernadette in Northfield was established as a parish in 1966 and a 600-seat church completed in 1969.

Consolidation seeks to energize parish life

The decree establishing Saint Gianna Beretta Molla parish is the eleventh issued by Bishop Galante in a diocesan-wide reconfiguration of parishes announced for the six counties of the diocese in April 2008. The reconfiguration is designed to strengthen parishes, to energize parish life by advancing major pastoral priorities identified at Speak Up sessions, to improve spiritual care to parishioners by providing needed ministries, and to reverse downward trends in Mass attendance and sacramental practice.

The reconfiguration also seeks to address the challenges of changing demographics, a decline in weekly Mass attendance and religious practice, and a decline in the number of diocesan priests available to serve in ministry.

Bishop Galante’s April 2008 intention to combine the parishes followed a period of study and consultation with deanery planners, the priest dean, the Diocesan Planning Commission and the Presbyteral Council of the diocese who concluded that the individual parishes could be made stronger if they were united.

Core Team prepares parishes to unite

Parishioners from both parishes were represented on the Core Team that prepared the parishes to unite: Nina Giacona, Mary Ann Marchetti, Peter Marchetti and Mary Rossiter (Saint Bernadette), Richard Swezeny, Maria Isabella Duran, Erick Duran, and Hank Scozzafava (Saint Peter).

The Core Team met for the first time on October 10, 2008 and over the next thirteen months tended to the necessary administrative, pastoral, canonical and civil preparations for merger. The Core Team members also served as chairpersons of committees for liturgy, social and parish life, ministry, finance, communications, staffing, buildings and grounds, multi-cultural community, and legal matters. Summaries of their meetings were published in both English and Spanish in parish bulletins and posted on parish websites.

The Core Team and Priest Convener paid special attention to preserving the histories of the two parishes, organizing parish archives and developing a unified history of the two parishes. Parishioners from both parishes had opportunities to socialize and worship together. In January 2009 a “Recognition of Volunteers” was held at the Hall of St. Bernadette for volunteers and their families. A covered-dish/potluck social gathering for both parishes was held last November. A “Parish Family Quilt” project was undertaken to create a visible symbol of the combined community and it will be incorporated into the Merger Mass procession and displayed in the Church. The team also worked to ensure that the gifts of both American and Latino cultures were drawn on in forming the new parish, which will serve both English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners.

Pediatrician, wife, mother and patron saint

Last April, the naming process began for the new parish. At a prayer service on June 25, 2009, three names were proposed. On July 1, Bishop Galante wrote to Father Brady to inform him that the name the new parish would be St. Gianna Beretta Molla, with the parish feast day April 28. The Italian-born St. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1961) was a pediatrician, wife and mother who refused both an abortion and a hysterectomy when she was pregnant with her fourth child, despite the risk to her life. Her fourth child was born on Good Friday in 1961, but complications from that pregnancy claimed her life a week later. She was canonized a saint in 2004.

Last November, Father Brady wrote to Bishop Galante to indicate that the Core Team had completed its preparations and requested an onsite evaluation by the Diocesan Merger Review Committee. An on-site visit on March 15 by five members of the Diocesan Merger Review Committee confirmed the parishes’ readiness to merge.

Great promise lies ahead

Nina Giacona, who has been a parishioner of Saint Bernadette for 25 years, expressed excitement at the great promise that lies ahead for the new parish. “We’re very excited everything has come together so beautifully. There’s great enthusiasm as we come together as one, new, stronger parish. We’re going to keep alive and build on the rich traditions of both parishes as we move forward together. Only good things can come to us through the intercession of St. Gianna.”

Erick Duran, who has been a parishioner at Saint Peter for 23 years, said, “We are very happy that this process has been accomplished. It was a lot of hard work, but a blessing and a success. I think it is awesome that we’re closer and tighter now as a community. Now that we’re united as one parish, we are expecting a stronger, better future.”

Father Brady thanked the Core Team members for their work in preparing for the merger. He said parishioners of both parishes accommodated the consolidation of the parishes “with grace and dignity.” He also took note that the decree establishing the new parish has been issued on Good Friday. “Holy Week and Easter are connecting us with the death and resurrection of Jesus that transformed everything. God is present through the pain of letting go of the familiar (the known) in the interest of a deeper and wider life (the unknown) that we are to have in common in the new parish of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla,” he said.