Three area Catholic parishes could merge

Rev. Ronald Rieder.
Photo provided.

A recommendation by Roman Catholic Bishop John D'Arcy could lead to a reduction in the number of Catholic parishes, but not the number of church buildings, in Huntington County.

Implementation of D'Arcy's recommendations, which were released on Wednesday, April 27, hinges on the retirement of Rev. Ronald Rieder, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Huntington.

Rieder, who will turn 74 in July, says he has no plans to retire - at least as long as his health holds out.

"I don't know my future at all," Rieder says. "I have no intention (of retiring) at this point at all. But I won't be here forever. I won't be here another 10 years, for sure. It all depends on my health."

D'Arcy, who has led the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese for 24 years, has spent the past several years - in consultation with a committee of priests - studying the needs of the 80 parishes in the diocese and the distribution of a shrinking number of priests among those parishes.

D'Arcy says that, as long as Rieder stays at SS. Peter and Paul, "the present situation can be left as it is."

But, Rieder says, "When I leave here, things will start changing."

Once Rieder does retire, the three separate Catholic parishes currently in existence in Huntington County would become one parish, although services would be held in all three church buildings.

D'Arcy has recommended that St. Mary and SS. Peter and Paul churches, both in Huntington, be served jointly by one pastor and one associate pastor. Currently, St. Mary, with 1,765 members, has its own pastor and SS. Peter and Paul, with 2,933 members, has a pastor and an associate pastor.

Further, D'Arcy recommends, St. Joseph Church in Roanoke should be merged with the Huntington parishes, with one Mass celebrated each Sunday at the Roanoke church.

St. Joseph has 556 members.

"This would release one priest for pastoral ministry elsewhere," D'Arcy explains in his recommendations.

Rev. Kenneth Sarrazine, the current pastor at St. Joseph, would probably be assigned to a different parish, Rieder says. Sarrazine also currently serves St. Catherine parish in Nix Settlement; that church would then be served by the pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Columbia City.

Although D'Arcy has recommended a merger, Rieder says there's still also a possibility that the two Huntington churches would remain separate parishes, each served by one pastor.

Rieder is a member of the Capuchin order of priests and was assigned by his order to serve at SS. Peter and Paul. The Capuchins will probably not assign a replacement after Rieder's retirement, D'Arcy says.

Both Rev. John Pfister, pastor of St. Mary, and Sarrazine are diocesan priests and receive their assignments from the diocese.

A joining of SS. Peter and Paul and St. Mary parishes would bring together two churches that have historically not had a close relationship.

SS. Peter and Paul was founded in 1843 by Huntington's large German Catholic population. Irish Catholic immigrants established St. Mary in 1896, in large part to have a church that spoke their native tongue, rather than German. Each church operated its own school.

"When I came here in 1984, there was a lot of tension," Rieder says.

And, he adds, both parish schools were "dying on the vine." Rieder and Rev. William Kummer, then-pastor of St. Mary, led their parishes in a consolidation of the two schools into what is now Huntington Catholic School.

"That brought the two parishes together," he says. "It was tough at the time, but that was a turning point. We need each other."

The full text of D'Arcy's recommendations for parishes in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese is available online at www.diocesefwsb.org/TODAY/.