Only a few miles apart, two of the
older and more picturesque parishes in the archdiocese are
facing up well to the challenge of acting as a single faith
community while maintaining their own special identity,
history and uniqueness.
It’s been 15 years since St. Anthony
Shrine in Emmitsburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in
neighboring Thurmont were joined out of convenience and
necessity in the face of the clergy shortage, but after some
rough spots in the beginning their relationship could well
serve as a model for other parishes likely to find themselves
in a similar situation.
Much of the success had to do with
finding the right, delicate balance, said Father James Hannon,
pastor of both parishes. Financially, the two parishes are
separate with two sets of books, but they share a pastoral
council with leadership representation from both while key
parish ministries like religious education and the Rite of
Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) are shared.
"The challenge was the parishes
needed to be distinct and unique but ‘let’s work
together,’" said Father Hannon. And so the parishes
have for the past 15 years shared one staff, one priest, one
religious education director and one youth ministry. The
latter effort also embraces another neighbor parish, St.
Joseph in Emmitsburg, which has long been run by the
Vincentians religious order.
When the two parishes had to face up
to the reality of fewer priests and the necessity of getting
together, it became "a matter of needing to ask people to
participate in a bigger vision than just my little parish, and
they have done very well with that," Father Hannon said.
What the two parishes have shared is a
long and fascinating history in the Catholic citadel of the
greater Emmitsburg area.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the
smaller yet older of the two, dedicated in 1859 when Thurmont
was known as "Mechanics’ Town." It was built at
the urging of Father William McClosky, the director of Mount
St. Mary’s Seminary who would later become the first rector
of the North American College in Rome.
St. Anthony Shrine was built nearly 40
years later, in 1897, but traces the roots of its congregation
all the way back to the time between 1728 and 1740 and the
arrival in the area of several Catholic families, the Elders,
Livers and the Owings, who formed the foundation for active
lay Catholic involvement in the area before the development of
the seminary in 1808.
Both parishes are relatively small,
with about 375 to 390 families in each, but the demographics
of their memberships have changed over recent years. When
Diane Decker was hired as secretary for both parishes in 1987,
the average age of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners was
somewhere between 40 and 50 while at St. Anthony’s it was 10
years older, she said.
Today both parishes have gotten
younger and, Ms. Decker said, the average age is closer to 35.
Neither parish is in any immediate
danger of fading away. Thurmont is a thriving town with more
development on the horizon and while the area around St.
Anthony Shrine has seen some shrinkage in population, people
who move into Thurmont tend to register at both parishes, Ms.
Decker said, especially since St. Anthony is larger and both
are close, anyway.
For Sister Carol Czyzewski, F.S.S.J.,
pastoral associate since 1993, the collaborative way in which
the two parishes and St. Joseph minister "is almost like
a step into the future compared to what some other parishes,
toward the east anyway, have done."
Sister Carol is joined by Sister
Valenta Rusin, F.S.S.J., who directs religious education and
pastoral care for both parishes, adding another religious
presence to a priest sparse community. But then, as Father
Hannon pointed out, priests from the seminary help celebrate
Masses, which allows him to divide his time effectively
between St. Anthony and Mount Carmel.
Mount Carmel is smaller, seating only
120 people, but that makes it ideal for daily Mass for
parishioners from both churches as well as the Monday
afternoon times for eucharistic adoration. Each church has two
Sunday Masses, while the well attended 4 p.m. Saturday Mass is
celebrated at St. Anthony.
While the two historic parishes have
successfully met the challenge of forming a partnership and
liking it, they are, like other western Maryland parishes,
also thinking regionally. What parishes like Our Lady of Mount
Carmel and St. Anthony Shrine may lose in a certain provincial
individualism, they are gaining in the development of a much
larger community of faith whose people are focusing more on
what they share in common than what may separate them.