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Praying for the masses: Parishioners try to save churches from closing doors for weekend masses

Margret Miller and Cindy Duckett, parishioners of Assumption Catholic Church in Canton Margret Miller and Cindy Duckett, parishioners of Assumption Catholic Church in Canton
CANTON, Minn. (KTTC) -- With not enough people in the pews and not enough priests to go around, a crisis is brewing for Catholic churches in southeast Minnesota.

Cindy Duckett and Margret Miller are members of Assumption Catholic Church in Canton.  Assumption is just one of the 21 parishes that the Diocese of Winona plans to change from a regular parish into what it calls "an oratory," as part of its Winona Pastoral Plan.  The church would remain open, but would no longer hold regular weekend masses under the plan, forcing parishioners to go to nearby towns.

"It's very tough, it's like losing part of your family," said Miller. "A family worships together and it's heartbreaking is what it is."

The faithful of Assumption are now praying for the masses.

"We're all faith-filled Christians and to lose this church would be devastating to us," said Duckett.

Cindy Duckett said her family helped build the first Assumption Church in Canton, and seven generations of her family have been members of this church.

"They want us to join Harmony," said Duckett. "Truth be told I will never join another church -- I will go to church of course but I don't think I'll join and be an active member like I am now."

Under the Diocese plan, 21 parishes with low attendance will form "clusters" and several churches will be merged as one to have mass.  For Margret Miller, this is not her first experience dealing with a parish being converted into an oratory.  Not only does this stir up old emotions, for her, it hits home especially hard.

"I wanted to become active in another parish and did, in this one. And this one is such a welcoming parish and I felt at home. And to have it happen another time it's like someone pulled the rug out from under my feet," said Miller.

"As we looked at our numbers in terms of both laity and priests, we are dwindling in some places and really growing in other places," said
Msgr. Richard Colletti, Vicar General and Director of Planning for the Diocese of Winona. "Most of the churches that are asked to merge and become oratories are in rural areas where there's no strong family farm presence anymore."

But Miller and Duckett argue their church doesn't fall into that category.

"The numbers that they used were from 2013, so from 2013 to our current status our numbers are actually up," said Miller. "And they had a magical number of 70 parishioners and below would turn into oratories. We're above the 70 mark now."

But on this particular Saturday only 37 people were in the sanctuary.  The parish priest said it was an unusual day, that some members were absent due to being seasonal workers. 

Msgr. Colletti said parishioners need to think of ways to bring their talents together to benefit the new clusters.

"Right away people say I want my church, I'll do anything to keep my church. And if I don't keep my church I'm going to leave, I'll go somewhere else. That's the consumer attitude that sometimes develops, and we're trying to offset that and say no this is God's church," said Msgr. Colletti.

Msgr. Colletti suggests not all hope is lost, that the pastoral plan is just a proposal, and some exceptions can be made, such as having mass in the summer months, or on certain holidays.

"We think there is something that can be done where it's rotating priests with other churches so that nobody's hurt by an oratory status or being closed," said Duckett.

Only time will tell what comes next for Assumption Catholic Church.
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