The four churches on Ocean County’s northern barrier island will undergo mergers and linkages under a plan announced last week by the Diocese of Trenton.
The diocesan plan, known as Faith in Our Future, is in response to reduced church attendance in recent years across the diocese, which spans Ocean, Monmouth, Mercer and Burlington counties.
“In recent years, dioceses all over the country have had to come to terms with the changing realities in the life of the Catholic Church and its faithful,” Bishop David M. O’Connell said in a statement, adding that current estimates show just 17 to 18 percent of families registered in the diocese’s 107 parishes attend Mass regularly.
The diocesan plan merges and “links” parishes, enabling them to share resources and reduce operating costs. Parishes were divided into “cohorts” and input was received from church leaders and parishioners, eventually leading to O’Connell’s final decision last week.
Two of the island’s churches – St. Catharine of Sienna and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, respectively – will be merged into one by July 2018. The remaining two churches, Sacred Heart of Bay Head and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, of Lavallette, will be linked by July 2019. All four churches will remain open.
Under the plan, the merged churches will become a new parish which will share a pastor. The plan allows for each physical church to retain its present name. All organizations, ministries, programs, finances, assets and liabilities belong to the one new parish, with one new staff being formed. The churches will be governed by one new finance council and one pastoral council.
Linked churches will also share a pastor but will remain distinct parishes with separate ministries, organizations and councils. The linked parishes should share organizations and councils “whenever appropriate and possible.”