Earlier this month, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced clerical changes that determines the destinations of priests affected by parish mergers in Manayunk.
Archbishop Joseph Chaput stated that three Manayunk parish leaders will assume new pastoral assignments. One – Rev. Francis McKee of Holy Family Parish – will remain.
Rev. Leonard Lewandowski, pastor of St. Josaphat Parish, will become the pastor of St. Titus Parish in Norristown. His parish will be merged with St. John the Baptist.
Rev. James Lyons, pastor of St. John the Baptist, will assume the title of Parochial Administrator pro tem at St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport.
Rev. Charles Zlock, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and Parochial Administrator of St. Lucy Parish, will assume a “special ministry” as rector of St. Joseph’s-in-the-Hills Retreat House in Malvern. St. Mary’s will be merged with St. John the Baptist, and St. Lucy’s will be merged with Holy Family.
Returning to Manayunk will be Rev. Thomas Kletzel, who will assume pastoral responsibility for St. John the Baptist Parish.
All assignments become effective July 2.
Why they are being moved
As reported by NewsWorks, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia originally announced the mergers in April. A statement issued at the time indicated the mergers were based on numerous indices, which include demographic shifts in Catholic populations, geographical parish density, declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity.
Also weighed were increasing economic challenges and a decrease in available clergy.
St. Mary, St. Lucy, and St. Josaphat are known collectively as the “ethnic parishes,” as each originally served a specific immigrant population. Respectively, they served the German, Italian, and Polish communities in Manayunk.
St. John the Baptist and Holy Family are “territorial” churches, with congregations traditionally defined by geographic boundary.
While all church functions will take place at the parishes of Holy Family and St. John the Baptist after the July implementation date, the ethnic parishes will remain open on a limited basis as “worship sites” – vacated church spaces that may continue to be used for funerals, and with special permission, weddings.
Making the transition
While several of the aforementioned priests were not available for comment, Rev. Zlock responded to NewsWorks questions about the implementation process and the personal impacts of transferring parishes.
Asked if was difficult to serve on an implementation team whose work is connected to his transfer, Zlock said that the most difficult part was being part of two transition teams at once – one at St. Mary, and one at St. Lucy.
“Once I emotionally processed one meeting,” he said, “I had to do it all over again a second time.”
Zlock explained that he was also reminded that the parishes were closing in daily conversations with locals and parishioners, and described the process as “wearying.”
“It was ‘death by 1000 pinpricks’ but times two, since I had two parishes,” he said.
Speaking to the work of the implementation team, Zlock noted that the work of the transition team is less about making findings but following guidelines set forth by the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Commission.
“My job was simply to stay focused on the task along with the others, make sure I was able to help move the transition process along best as possible, pastorally take care of my parishioners and personally take care of myself best that I could,” he explained.
Describing the transition meetings, Zlock said they are business-like, but are balanced by cooperation, respect, and courtesy, and have received praise from leading Archdiocesan officials.
In addition, Zlock praised the work of parishioners from both St. Mary and St. Josaphat who are appealing the merger decisions.
“Both groups have also gone about discussing some very difficult issues and accomplished their respective tasks in a transparent, respectful and professional manor,” he observed.
But while the implementation work continues and the clock counts down to the final days for several parishes in Manayunk, Zlock affirmed that clerical reassignments, while never easy, are part of his duty.
“It’s what I ‘signed up for’ 17 years ago on the Cathedral floor,” he said.