After more than two years of study and collaboration by the Catholic community in and around Asbury Park, it was announced by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. that two parish mergers will take place effective July 1, 2012. St. Peter Claver Parish, Asbury Park, will be merged into Holy Spirit Parish, Asbury Park, and Our Lady of Providence Parish, Neptune, will be merged into Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Asbury Park.
The remaining two parishes, Holy Spirit and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, will be twinned under the leadership of one pastor, Divine Word Father Miguel Virella, also effective July 1, 2012. A transition team representing both parishes will be formed to examine and make recommendations on all areas of parish life.
The restructuring is not expected to affect the parish school for Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The decision, which was announced in a letter that was read to all four parish communities the weekend of January 1, was based on restructuring recommendations presented to Bishop O’Connell Sept. 20 by Asbury Park area pastors, priests and parish leaders, and followed consultation with the Diocesan Curia and Presbyteral Council.
The recommendations culminated a lengthy process of research, evaluation and dialogue which focused on meeting the challenges of changing demographics and dwindling pastoral and financial resources. These factors, primary among them the inadequacy of aging church structures, necessitated the twinning in 2005 of St. Peter Claver Parish with Holy Spirit Parish, and the clustering in 2007 of the parishes of Our Lady of Providence, St. Peter Claver and Holy Spirit.
This newest restructuring respects the long standing history of the Catholic Church in Asbury Park of embracing a rich diversity of cultural and faith traditions, while ensuring the most fruitful means of spreading the Gospel and meeting the needs of those within the community. The histories of these four parishes, spanning as many as 130 years, are defined by their welcome of the immigrant populations they serve and the ability to thrive in changing times.
From its very beginnings in 1880, Holy Spirit Parish ministered to Irish, German and Italian immigrants, and is now a place of welcome for members of the Haitian and Hispanic communities. Founded in 1905, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish was first home to recent immigrants from Italy and continues to be a parish that is open to a diverse community of people. St. Peter Claver Parish was established to serve African-American Catholics, and Our Lady of Providence Parish has been a spiritual home for the Hispanic Catholic community.
In announcing the restructuring plan, Bishop O’Connell expressed his appreciation to Father Virella, Trinitarian Father Charles Flood, and the late Father William McLaughlin, former pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, “for the leadership they have shown throughout this study.” The bishop indicated that Father Flood will remain pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel until June 30, 2012, and Father Virella will remain pastor of Our Lady of Providence Parish and temporary administrator of St. Peter Claver Parish and Holy Spirit Parish until June 30, 2012.
Following the merger, Holy Spirit Parish will continue its ministry to Haitian Catholics and will move forward with a plan to build St. Peter Claver Center on the former St. Peter Claver church property. The center, which will continue the charism of Jesuit missionary St. Peter Claver, is a move toward consolidation and coordination of outreach efforts to the poor, needy and marginalized. The new facility, located in an area providing the greatest impact, will advance Catholic social teaching and ministry in Asbury Park.
In recognition of the continued growth of the Hispanic Catholic community, Our Lady of Providence Parish, as part of the newly merged parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, will worship in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and will continue to worship and minister in Holy Spirit Church where it has been located since 2006 when its own facilities were found to be structurally unsound. Additional worship services will be established in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church as needed.
In addition, under the leadership of Father Virella, the parish communities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Holy Spirit will work collaboratively to develop a longer-range plan to bring both parishes into one community. The plan must be presented to Bishop O’Connell by Dec. 1, 2013.
Acknowledging the challenge before them, Bishop O’Connell said, “Change is never easy because these decisions touch people at a very sacred and sensitive place; namely, their love for their parish. These changes will certainly require all of us to work together in a spirit of faith to develop and implement plans for becoming parishes that welcome and draw people into an ever deeper relationship with Christ through worship, education and service. I ask that you join together with optimism and confidence, trusting in the presence of Christ who is always with us, so that our Catholic life in Asbury Park will be vibrant well into the future.”