One parish with three places of worship.
That is what the former Sacred Heart and St. Patrick parishes in Sedalia and the former St. John the Evangelist mission in Bahner have become.
At the request of the people, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight united all three into a new parish, known as St. Vincent de Paul.
“By joining the parishes together, the members of the Catholic Church in Pettis County now belong to a wider group of parishioners for the benefit of all,” Bishop McKnight stated at the inaugural Mass for the new parish Sept. 22.
“The greater efficiency that comes with working together allows the Church to leverage the spiritual, financial and human resources throughout the whole county, such that the Church can provide a full range of better parish services that everyone deserves to have,” he said.
More than 700 people attended the inaugural Mass, celebrated in the Heckart Performing Arts Center at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia.
The bishop’s decision to combine the congregations came in response to a request from lay representatives of all three, along with Precious Blood Father Mark Miller, who was their pastor before retiring Aug. 1.
They made the request following a thorough review of the parishes’ viability and vitality, as well as extensive consultation within all three congregations.
They requested that the new parish be entrusted to the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul, after whom the first parish in Sedalia was named over 150 years ago.
All three church buildings will continue to function as worship sites for the united parish.
Sacred Heart School, which educates children in pre-kindergarten through high school, will retain its name and continue as a primary mission of the new parish.
“That they may be one”
Parishioners representing the former St. John the Evangelist, St. Patrick and Sacred Heart congregations carried banners in the procession at the beginning of Mass.
In a stirring gesture, they carried the banners back out at the offertory. Another parishioner then brought forward the St. Vincent de Paul banner as part of the Offertory Procession.
“What we are celebrating today is not the end of three parishes,” Bishop McKnight insisted, “but the full flowering of a long effort by many pastors over the years to bring the Catholic Community of Pettis County into greater communion: ‘that they may be one,’” (John 17:21).
Joining Bishop McKnight at the altar were: Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, who led the Jefferson City diocese from 1997-2017; Father Joseph Corel and Father David Veit, who serve together (“in solidum”) as pastor of the new parish; Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general for the diocese; and Fr. Miller.
Deacons of the new parish assisted at the Mass. Christopher Hoffman, a Sedalia native and seminarian for the diocese, kept the incense burning as one of the servers.
A choir and ensemble made up of liturgical musicians and vocalists from the various weekend Masses at the three worship locations led the singing.
Strength in unity
“Fortitudo et pax” was the motto of Bishop Joseph S. Glass of Salt Lake City, Utah (+1917-26), who as a youngster attended St. Patrick School in Sedalia.
It means “fortitude and peace,” which is what it took to set this transition into motion: the fortitude to try something new, and the peace of knowing that God is in charge and will bless it with His grace.
St. John the Evangelist mission was founded in 1845. St. Patrick and Sacred Heart were founded in 1867 and 1882, respectively.
Before the new parish was created, Sacred Heart had 848 registered households. St. Patrick had 416 and was also serving an unknown number of immigrant families who were not yet registered. St. John the Evangelist had 33.
Talk of uniting the parishes to ensure the health of the larger Catholic community came in response to the diocese’s two-year process of helping parishes assess and work toward improving their vitality and long-term viability.
That process, one of the priorities in the diocesan pastoral plan adopted by Bishop Emeritus Gaydos in 2015, is a response to rapidly changing needs and realities in local communities and throughout the diocese.
The people who crafted this plan believe it will help the entire Pettis County Catholic community grow in unity, holiness, strength and ability to minister and draw people into a deeper relationship with Christ.
It reflects the extensive collaboration that was already taking place among the three faith communities — especially in the areas of charitable endeavors, youth ministry, religious education, sacrament preparation, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, ministry to and through the area’s sizable Hispanic population, and interparish support for Sacred Heart School.
All three church buildings retain their names and continue to be locations for Mass, the sacraments, and external ministries to the community.
But they are part of one parish, under the guidance of a single parish pastoral council and parish finance council.
The committees and commissions of each community are being combined to serve the needs of the new, larger parish.
Priorities will include enhanced collaboration and outreach, especially to people in need, people who have fallen away from active practice of the faith, and those who have not yet heard the Gospel.
Three and one
Bishop McKnight commended the Catholics of Pettis County for their vision and courage, and encouraged other communities in the diocese to follow their lead.
He said continuing to have “three altars” within the parish should not be a source of division but of greater unity.
“Every parish has multiple groups that form the one community of faith,” he stated, “and our efforts at greater communion should not be directed at reducing the groupings that naturally occur.”
Rather, the parish exists and manifests itself “in the multiplicity and diversity of charisms of the baptized.”
“The larger the parish, the more important it is for the people to have a ‘world’ or group within the parish that helps them feel like they belong,” said Bishop McKnight.
It’s also important for each of these groups to identify with the larger parish community, he stated.
He urged the people to make a point of occasionally attending meetings and liturgical functions at worship sites other than the one closest to home.
Mercy and charity
The bishop said naming the parish in honor of a saint known for his charitable attitude and deeds is appropriate for a community that has demonstrated such a strong commitment to charitable outreach.
“It indicates your deliberate choice to continue this tradition, recognizing that what we do for the poor is done for Christ,” said Bishop McKnight. “As the Church, we are all about helping and caring for people, both in their spiritual and material needs.
“Please do what you can to help the new parish of St. Vincent de Paul be recognized by everyone, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as a center of charity and mercy where they can always find help,” he said.
All of this will require a deliberate, conscious commitment to good stewardship on the part of all parishioners.
“As a steward,” he said, “I am called to give God my attention in prayer; to serve Christ by serving the mission of His Church; and to sacrificially offer the fruits of my labor by giving financially, not to a need but out of my need to give.”
The bishop asserted that a parish’s commitment to the spirituality of stewardship is most noticeable in its sacrificial commitment to the forming of its young people in the ways of faith.
“Handing on the faith to the next generation is not just the obligation of the parents, but also the responsibility of the whole parish,” he noted.
On behalf of the entire parish, Fr. Corel thanked Bishop McKnight, Bishop Emeritus Gaydos and everyone who had a hand in bringing the Sept. 22 celebration about.
He said a great deal of work and discernment lie ahead for the vision of a unified parish to be brought to full fruition.
“But today, we celebrate, we rejoice, and we give thanks to the Lord for all that He has done for us, bringing us together as one!” said Fr. Corel.
A reception organized by the Knights of Columbus and Daughters of Isabella took place afterward in the Knights of Columbus Hall.
Two cakes were decorated with images of the three worship sites and Sacred Heart School.
Fr. Veit and Fr. Corel handed out St. Vincent de Paul prayer cards.