Catholic churches in Eastern South Dakota to merge - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Catholic churches in Eastern South Dakota to merge

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Some big changes are coming to the Eastern South Dakota Catholic community. Starting July 1, 23 parishes will merge as numbers decrease in rural churches across the diocese.

Some of the many communities to be affected include Spencer, Freeman and Howard as separate parishes will become one.

"Change is ongoing and we just need to deal with it in as healthy as a way and realistic way as we can and we hope we're doing it in this process," Bishop Paul Swain said.

Bishop Paul Swain and other Diocese leaders are forced to make changes mostly because of demographics: fewer people in rural communities with fewer priests.

"There's consolidation in schools, healthcare, government programs so this is going on in the broader society and it's affecting the church too," Swain said.

The bishop had a lot to consider, like the number of sacraments annually, number of people, financial status and condition of the parish buildings. 

He spent a lot of time meeting with people all over the diocese.

"It's hard for them and it's hard for me but if we don't do anything, it's going to be even harder. We need to manage it in a charitable way," Swain said.

Parishioners with the Church of the Epiphany St. Agatha will soon be joined by Catholics from Spencer and Farmer. That's because St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Farmer is closing.

"Merging the two of them has them stronger as it becomes one. I think it'll be alright and [parishioners] will think the same," Father Paul Josten said.

Fr. Paul Josten says the merge will bring more Catholics in addition to a stronger parish community.

"We're going to get good from them there, they're going to get good from us. It'll be good. I like the whole prospect, thought, of 'Gee, I can't wait to see what kind of people and talents will come of this merge," Fr. Josten said.

Meanwhile, parishioners are staying optimistic.

"Nobody is ever happy about losing a church. I think you have to go with change and adjust. It's like daily living, there are things that happen from day to day and you have to go on and make the best of it," parishioner Kathleen Wingen said.

"We're one church in a Diocese that isn't just one parish. We're a family of sister churches," Swain said.

The health and well-being of priests in rural communities was a significant factor in the merging process. Changes will be implemented in July but the transition will be done smoothly for people still attending the churches to be affected. 

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