Working together in Des Moines County

Father Bruce DeRammelaere, left, parochial vicar of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington, leads people in prayer before an indoor picnic last month at St. Paul Catholic Church in Burlington.The annual picnic is one example of collaboration among parishes in Des Moines County.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Collaboration that began of necessity 14 years ago in Des Moines County has become a way of life. A pastor’s accidental fall, resulting in his early retirement, led to mergers that created Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington and Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish in West Burlington. St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville shares a pastor with West Burlington.

Stories of their experiences — and those of other parishes in the diocese that collaborate — will be of benefit to a yearlong diocesan-wide planning process that begins in mid-September. As the number of priests available for parish ministry diocesan wide continues to drop, ideas for ways in which to collaborate and cooperate are being sought from clergy, lay leaders and people in the pews.

Geographical challenges

Geography has an impact on collaboration in Des Moines County. While St. John and St. Paul church buildings are within a half-mile of each other and Ss. Mary & Patrick is about four miles away, it’s another 11 miles to St. Mary’s in Dodgeville. The Dodgeville parish also serves Catholics in Morning Sun, Wapello and Mediapolis. “So a person could conceivably drive 20 miles one way to go to Mass — and a lot farther to come into Burlington,” said Father Dave Steinle, pastor of the West Burlington and Dodgeville parishes. Dodgeville’s collaboration involves sharing a pastor with Ss. Mary & Patrick, having a representative on the Regional Parish Council and being offered adult faith formation programs, he said. A uniform staff and employee handbook for the Des Moines County Catholic community has been created as well.


Regional Parish Council

Adam Thielen, 32, who grew up going to St. John’s, is president of the Regional Parish Council. Six members each from the Burlington and West Burlington parishes serve on the council and a Dodgeville parish council member participates as a non-voting member. Each parish has its own finance council, as required by canon law. Meetings, held six times a year, alternate between worship centers in Burlington and West Burlington. Thielen said the latter two parishes collaborate on youth and adult faith formation, health care ministry, the Notre Dame Catholic school system, parish bulletins, annual picnic and other activities. Further collaboration is possible, but “I think there are a lot of things we’re doing now.” He hopes that in the future “we have enough priests to serve the parish families. Without good priests, there’s not a whole lot we can do.”

Kent Wilson, vice president of the Regional Parish Council and a lifelong member of St. Mary’s (now Ss. Mary & Patrick), is completing his sixth and final year on the council. He sees the main benefit of collaboration as “promoting Catholicism within the community.” The biggest challenge facing the Des Moines County Catholic community is the priest shortage, he said. “That’s been the concern on everyone’s mind. We decided to collaborate to keep the Catholic community strong and to keep it going. We’ve even implemented a plan, in the event that we lose one of the three priests and they’re not replaced. We even have a schedule of Masses to keep the churches open. We try to think ahead,” he said. “We’re trying to soften the blow.”

Wilson believes a Parish Life Administrator (PLA) could serve a vital role in the future. “I really feel a PLA down the road can fill in the niches where needed to keep a parish viable and open,” he said.

Ministries of collaboration

Filling the niche for ministry to the sick and elderly is Sister Kathy Braun, SSND, pastoral associate for the Burlington and West Burlington parishes. A dozen or so individuals from the two parishes assist her in bringing Communion to the homebound, care facilities and hospitals. “It’s very rewarding working with the people who help minister and with those who are homebound, in nursing homes or assisted care facilities,” she said.

She leads Communion services monthly at area care facilities; the county’s three priests alternate presiding at Masses there. She also coordinates the twice-yearly anointing of the sick Masses at one of the churches and leads a monthly health ministers meeting to coordinate activities. Another collaborative effort is the Bereavement Card Ministry which sees that the family or spouse of a deceased loved one receives a card four different times in the first year of the loved one’s death. Dianne Fell creates the cards, which are greatly appreciated by recipients, Sr. Braun added.

In collaboration, “We’re trying to bring about the Kingdom, to do Jesus’ work and ministry. The more people who are involved, the greater the benefit,” she said.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is one more way to get people involved in the Des Moines County Catholic community. Twenty-one participants attended weekly RCIA sessions this past year, while eight to 10 people served on the team, including Sr. Braun and Father Bruce DeRammelaere, parochial vicar of Ss. John & Paul. He’s been through the RCIA process himself and now as a priest offers a great witness, said Connie Trautner, Faith Formation director.

RCIA alternates between the Burlington and West Burlington worship center sites for Sunday liturgies, rites and breaking open the Word. “We want them to see that no matter where they go, those essential elements of the Mass will always be there. There is unity and consistency in the celebration of the Mass and yet they are experiencing how each community puts its mark on how they worship.”

Another collaborative effort is the Resurrection Choir, which sings at funeral Masses. “They’re a very faithful group and I think everyone can see how they minister, so they enjoy doing it. They know they’re appreciated,” said Diane Mahoney, the choir’s director who also serves as music director at Ss. John & Paul. “I’ve certainly gotten to know the Ss. Mary & Patrick parishioners better than I would have,” she added. “It’s grand, I love it.”

Examples of collaboration in the Keokuk Deanery

Ministries shared with neighboring parishes:

• Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison and St. Joseph Parish in Montrose share religious education.

• St. Mary Parish in West Point, St. Boniface Parish in Farmington, St. James Parish in St. Paul and St. John Parish in Houghton share Religious Education Director Dixie Booten. St. James and St. John share a religious education program; St. Boniface and St. Mary each have their own religious education program, Booten said. She facilitates RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) for all four parishes. Brenda Mansheim is youth minister for all four parishes, but has the youth ministry meetings in West Point. Confirmation classes for religious education students from all four parishes also take place in West Point.

“And just last week we finished Vacation Bible School and it was for the four parishes,” Booten said. “We even had grandchildren of parishioners participating from out of state. I think the kids in these four parishes are getting so used to being thrown together with other kids. I think it’s great. It’s the Catholic Church, which means universal.”

 Collaboration strengthening:

• Communication, expertise and cost savings. 

• Shared resources.

Future collaboration:

• Parishes cited a need for a youth minister. 

• There is a continuing need to share adult formation (deanery and parish)

• Parishes need to continue to work together with planning.

Successful model:

• Faith formation ministers meet with pastors twice a year.

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