By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Long-range planning for the future of west Scott County Catholic parishes has picked up steam with four town hall meetings in April. Those parishes are St. Peter Parish in Buffalo and Holy Family and St. Alphonsus parishes in Davenport.
Father Paul Appel said the St. Gregory Commission has been looking at options since before the coronavirus pandemic began. Now those ideas are being shared with parishioners to start thinking about how to address the reality of fewer priests to serve the diocese due to retirements, the condition of various buildings, and continued growth in the western part of the county.
At meetings held at St. Alphonsus and Holy Family parishes, Father Appel said the commission offered three plans:
• Do nothing and reduce the number of Masses to the minimum that one priest can celebrate (three per weekend). This would result in zero, one or two Masses at each church on the weekend.
• Consolidate all services to one site, such as Holy Family, and hold all Masses there.
• Construct a church building at a new site that could accommodate parishioners from all three parishes.
“While none of these options would be easy, it is time to seriously consider what the future holds for us,” Father Appel said. Prior to the meetings, he consulted with Bishop Thomas Zinkula and other priests in the Davenport Deanery. “They agree that we need to plan for the future.” Our Lady of Lourdes and St. John Vianney parishes in Bettendorf are already in talks about the future.
During the April 28 meeting at St. Alphonsus, Father Appel said no decisions were being made right away. The meetings were intended to share information and to talk. “We want to be a growing community.”
A City of Davenport report states that from 2010-2019 Davenport added about 4,000 individuals (3,000 households). The city expects that growth to continue and hopes to expand development on the west side of the city.
Father Appel said populations in Buffalo and Blue Grass, west of Davenport, continue to grow. St. Peter Parish in Buffalo would be beyond capacity if parishioners were able to celebrate Mass inside with no COVID restrictions. More than 120 people attended an outdoor Mass last month. St. Alphonsus is near capacity with current COVID restrictions in place. Holy Family English Masses continue to grow and the Latin Mass is well over capacity.
He shared information about seating capacity (non-COVID) at each parish along with information about other facilities on the parish campuses. All three churches are in pretty good shape; however, challenges exist with boilers, a need for tuck-pointing and other unexpected repairs because of the age of the buildings. He provided information about Mass count trends (pre-COVID), collection, and budget and donor gifts for each parish.
Solutions to the challenges vary. “We could simply wait for someone else to decide what should happen,” Father Appel said. “If we do not address the root causes of decline, the problem will continue and we will be back here in another generation. We need to increase our evangelization efforts and encourage more young men to consider the priesthood.”
A question and answer session followed. One parishioner asked whether construction of a new church would bring back people who have strayed away. Father Appel said typically people do come back when something new is built. He used the examples of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Another parishioner said she liked the idea of having the youths together in one location. One youth group, one place to gather.
Another parishioner asked about Catholic education. Father Appel said strategic planning for Scott County Catholic schools continues. A trend he has noticed in other dioceses is that younger priests want Catholic education. Many schools in those dioceses are at capacity, he said.
As the meeting concluded, Father Appel encouraged participants to look at all the options. A decision does not happen in one day. “I want your opinion.” He plans to hold more informational sessions in the future. “The next major step is to commission a study by an outside organization to poll all parishioners about what kind of future they want.” He asks all parishioners to pray for a successful outcome.
“Ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and the Blessed Mother to show us the will of her son.”