Effective July 1, three parishes in Fond du Lac County have merged into a new one.
St. John the Baptist, Johnsburg/Malone; St. Mary, Marytown; and St. Isidore, Mt Calvary; have formed Our Lady of the Holyland Parish. The new parish main office is housed at St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, and the other locations have become secondary churches.
The five church locations will operate as one, as St. Isidore is itself the product of three merged churches. In 2010, under the leadership of Fr. Steve Kropp, OFM Cap, Holy Cross in Mt. Calvary, St. Cloud in St. Cloud and St. Joseph in St. Joseph became St. Isidore the Farmer Parish.
According to Fr. Gary Wegner, former pastor of St. Isidore the Farmer, the three parishes had been collaborating since the establishment of the Consolidated Parochial Elementary School in 1968. Recently, they changed the school’s name to Holyland Catholic School.
“When St. Isidore was formed (after the first merger), we decided to have one combined pastoral council, bulletin and religious education program. The coming together as one parish seemed to many to be a natural extension of what had already been happening,” he said. “Many of the families who belong to any one of the parishes had relatives who belonged to the other parishes. When I first became pastor of all three parishes, a trustee of St. John the Baptist was the brother-in-law of a trustee of St. Isidore the Farmer. The chair of the finance council at St. Mary’s grew up in St. Cloud.”
About two years ago, a member of the Holyland Catholic Parishes Pastoral Council proposed merging the three parishes by bringing the five parishes into one.
“The members of the Pastoral Council unanimously agreed, and we began the process,” said Fr. Wegner. “The vast majority of parishioners are supportive and understand that this is for the good of the Holyland.”
Linda Kraus agreed, adding that since Fr. Wegner served all three parishes, they already completed much of the merger work. Kraus is a member of the parish council and assisted with the planning process.
“Throughout the process, we wanted to be completely transparent and wanted people to feel they would know every step of what we are doing. We put updates in the bulletin, and Fr. Gary did as well,” she said. “We called a town hall meeting and encouraged questions, but by the time of the meeting, we had answered most of the questions.”
A natural concern revolved around whether all five churches would remain open, but Kraus said they explained to parishioners that while it is not their intention nor the archdiocese’s intention to shutter any churches, they are not able to predict the future.
“Thankfully, we did think to schedule all of the Masses at the various churches in case we only have one priest available. Even though the timing would be tight, he could make it to each church to celebrate Mass,” said Kraus. “We also have confessions scheduled every Saturday at 3:15 at St John’s in Johnsburg.”
As chair of the merger, Eric Halbach, trustee with the former St. Mary’s in Marytown, assisted with the communications to members of the parishes. Because the groundwork was in place when the schools came together to form what is now Holyland Catholic School, bringing the parishes together was more manageable.
The merger was Halbach’s idea, and it was something he suggested to Fr. Wegner when he became trustee of the parish.
“Our goal of the merger was to be upfront as possible and attack rumors with facts. We stayed ahead of any negative talk, held our listening sessions, and I was the spokesperson at each meeting. We wanted to have the same message said at each meeting,” he said. “This seemed to work, and there was not much pushback from any of the parishioners. We started a FAQ and posted them in the bulletins after we would receive several of them. If one person had a question, we knew that others would have the same.”
While Fr. Wegner was recently transferred to Detroit to serve as director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, he acknowledged that one benefit of the merger would be freeing the pastor from attending multiple finance council meetings and preparing three budgets.
“There will no longer be a need to appropriate the pastor’s and other staff salaries among the three parishes based on the size of each parish. I believe that by merging and becoming one parish, we will have a stronger and more unified witness to our Catholic faith in the Holyland,” he said.
As the new pastor of Our Lady of the Holyland, Fr. Randall Knauf, OFM Capuchin, comes from Burnett County in northwest Wisconsin. He has experience working with parishes like Holyland as well as a cluster of five churches.
“The difference is that Our Lady of the Holyland has the benefit of being a single parish community and one school,” Fr. Knauf said. “(What) I am looking forward to the most is learning the stories of the five churches, and the needs of the people and their stories in each area of the newly merged parishes.”
When Fr. Knauf worked with previously merged parishes, he learned that the slow collaboration process brings richness and resources from myriad church experiences.
“My hope is that at Our Lady of the Holyland Parish, we will also discover insights and ways of being (the) Church in our area that enriches the experiences of each family,” he said. “We have the long experience of sharing our Catholic grade school among these communities, that we hope to build on as we continue to share the mission of Christ in our part of northeast Fond du Lac County, in the area long known as the Holyland.”
Our Lady of the Holyland
Weekend Mass Schedule
Saturdays: 4 p.m. St. John, Johnsburg location
5:15 p.m. St. Isidore, Mt Calvary location
Sundays: 7:45 a.m. St. Cloud, St. Cloud location
9:15 a.m. St. Mary, Marytown location
10:30 a.m. St Isidore, Holy Cross location