By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
In the weeks since Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd and Sacred Heart Parishes, both in Trenton, were merged, Father Dennis Apoldite, pastor, and the parishioners have been striving to establish roots as members of the newly created Sacred Heart Parish.
Photo Gallery: Sacred Heart Parish forms new community
One example was reflected when they came together on a sunny and warm July 8 afternoon for a Mass and picnic held at the Mercer County CYO Day Camp, Yardville. After Mass, all enjoyed a picnic with lots of perks –hamburgers, hotdogs, salads and desserts; an Olympic-sized pool; swings for the children and spacious tree-lined grounds for those of all ages, including adults who sat in the shade and shared conversation.
As of July 1, the two inner-city Trenton faith communities merged into a new entity under the name of Sacred Heart Parish. The merger marks one of the changes that came about from the Diocese’s pastoral planning initiative, Faith in Our Future, which was commissioned in 2015 by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in order to strengthen and enliven parishes of the Diocese.
“Merging parishes is necessary due to the times we are in,” parishioner Mike Knowles said.
“In the past, the city, in particular, could sustain so many parishes within a very close area. But times have changed, and people are not going to church like in the past. Therefore, the reality is that the numbers of parishes are not able to be sustained,” he said.
More importantly, Knowles continued, “The Church has a mission and that is to bring Christ to others in need. By bringing parishes together, the Church has a better chance of fulfilling its mission.”
A New Day
Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd and Sacred Heart Parishes are very familiar with the process of parish studies and pastoral planning. Both were part of the 2005 Trenton Ward Study, which culminated in the now 204-year-old Sacred Heart Parish remaining a self-standing parish while BS-OLDS Parish was created from the merger of Blessed Sacrament Parish with Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish.
In 2013, Sacred Heart Parish had its first collaborating experience when it was linked with Divine Mercy Parish, (which in 2005, had been created from the merger of Holy Cross, St. Stanislaus and Sts. Peter and Paul Parishes), and Father Apoldite, who had been pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, was appointed by Bishop O’Connell to also serve as pastor of Divine Mercy Parish. That configuration remained until July 1, 2017, when the Faith in Our Future recommendation was announced that Divine Mercy and Sacred Heart Parishes be merged and become the new Sacred Heart Parish.
Now, as of this past July 1, Sacred Heart Parish experienced another change when it was merged with Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish.
As the parish transitions into a new entity, some of the logistics that were defined in the official decree on the merger that was signed by Bishop O’Connell, include the name of the community, which will remain Sacred Heart Parish; the geographical boundaries; the use of worship sites; the disposition of goods and debt currently belonging to the two separate parishes and the retention of sacramental records from all the former parishes under the Sacred Heart and BS-OLDS configurations. As a territorial parish, Sacred Heart Parish will serve the needs of those who reside in the parish territory and will have particular ministries among Polish Catholics and Black Catholics. While Sacred Heart Church and Holy Cross Church will continue to be used for the spiritual needs of the faithful, it was decided that BS-OLDS Church was to closed.
Among the adjustments the parish has made to date include updating the Mass schedule to now include a Gospel Mass, which was transferred from BS-OLDS Parish. The Gospel Mass is celebrated each Sunday at 10 a.m. in Holy Cross Church, while the longstanding Polish Mass, which had been transferred from Holy Cross and Divine Mercy Parishes, continues to be celebrated on Sunday at noon in Holy Cross Church. Under the new configuration, the parish currently has oversite of 18 buildings and administration of five cemeteries.
Different Paths, Unified Vision
Similar to Knowles, Dr. Ellieen Ancrum Ingbritsen, a member of Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd since the 1990s, expressed similar sentiments on how “clearly, the major positive effect of merging is the continued life of the Church.”
“By joining hands in faith, we keep the circle unbroken,” she said, but acknowledged that one challenge that can surface is the willingness of parishioners to “learn more about the people whose faith we share that includes their history, culture and unique spiritualty.
“To that end, it is my hope that we engage in more interparish activities so that we create a stronger circle,” said Ancrum Ingbritsen, who has been appointed a parish trustee. “In this newest merger, there is potential to show and share what it means to be a ‘universal’ Church. Under the leadership of Father Dennis Apoldite, I am sure that we will bring our rich and diverse gifts to the Eucharistic table with joy.”
Angela Dodson, a member of Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd since 1994, said it’s her hope that “our Church as a whole and that the Diocese are doing more to retain and attract members, especially young people, at a time when many Protestants are sustaining ‘megachurches.’”
While merging parishes addresses economizing the duplication of services and the opportunity to create more diverse, inclusive parish communities, the challenge she sees is making the positive aspects “a reality by assuring that people feel included and not just tolerated,” she said, referencing of being aware of parishioners from BS-OLDS having negative experiences when visiting other churches within the Diocese, she has been pleased to find the community at Sacred Heart to be welcoming and receptive so far.
“We have an opportunity to make connections with a broader cross-section of Catholics in Trenton who are involved in the community and possibly have an impact and inform the discussion about the city’s future,” she said. For now, “We are working hard to adjust to the new situation and help make the transition easy for the entire congregation. But it will take time.”
Stanley Winowicz, a former Holy Cross parishioner acknowledged that people are worried about losing their heritage and culture, “but now we will blend into something new.” He added that he’s looking forward to participating in a Gospel Mass where there is more music.
“We have to be open-minded,” he said, then added of the merger, “the positives outweigh the negatives.
“Change is scary,” he said, “but it’s also exciting. There’s no doubt about that.”
“With the merger, we have to let go of that and accept a new identity to some degree. It’s just a part of letting go and accepting what the future brings,” said Knowles, also a former Holy Cross parishioner.
Then, with a smile, Knowles referred to a quote from Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.”
“We cherish the memories that our previous parish life provided as part of our faith journey and continue to seek in our new parish that which we need to sustain us as we continue on our journey to heaven.”