Thursday, November 13, 2008

News from Long Branch

Long Branch parishes to merge in first decision of Monmouth Central Deanery study
Sunday, November 09, 2008

The first decision resulting from the Monmouth Central Deanery Study was announced by Bishop John M. Smith in a letter read to three Long Branch parish communities at Mass Nov. 8 and 9.

Our Lady, Star of the Sea; St. John the Baptist, and Holy Trinity Parishes, which were twinned in June, 2007 as three separate communities under one pastoral administration, will become one parish community as of July 1, 2009, according to the bishop's announcement. Father Sam A. Sirianni, pastor of the twinned communities, has been named pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold, effective Dec. 1, 2008, replacing the late Father Thomas O'Connor who died earlier this year. Bishop Smith named Father Daniel Peirano, who has served the twinned parishes as parochial vicar, to be the administrator of the merging communities during this transition period, with the intention of taking over as pastor after the merger becomes effective.

The bishop's letter states that the merged parish will be given a new name and will be asked to act collaboratively with the other parishes of the Monmouth Central Deanery, especially nearby Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, to support expanded ministry opportunities. The bishop established Our Lady Star of the Sea Church as the principal worship site. A soon-to-be named implementation team, which will have representation from all three parishes, will manage the details of the merger and determine the use of the other buildings and properties. Set to begin its work in December, the team will also elicit input from parishioners on suggested names to present to Bishop Smith for his decision.

The recommendation to merge the three parish communities was one of several different scenarios submitted in August by the Monmouth Central Deanery Study Team, which represented 15 parishes in the region. In receiving the recommendations, Bishop Smith emphasized that the work of the study was dedicated to the goal of keeping the Catholic community vibrant well into the future. He cited the challenges of meeting the ministerial and pastoral needs created by demographic and vocations trends, such as shifting population from small towns and cities to sprawling suburbs, a decline in the number of priests and religious available to serve and the arrival of new Catholics in the area, as well as growth in the senior citizen population.
Bishop Smith is expected to announce decisions related to other recommendations before the end of the year.

The Catholic community in Long Branch, which includes about 2,500 families, has a long and dramatic heritage. Once home to national political figures, corporate tycoons and their entourages, Long Branch became known as a cultural center in the mid-1800s. The town's first church, later dedicated for Our Lady, Star of the Sea Parish, was built in 1854. Holy Trinity was established in 1906 as a national parish for Italian-speaking Catholics, and St. John the Baptist was dedicated in 1978 as a mission of Immaculate Conception Parish in Eatontown. St. John Parish was established in 1984 as an independent parish serving the growing Hispanic and Portuguese population of the area.

In announcing the Long Branch merger, Bishop Smith expressed his gratitude to Father Sirianni for the leadership he has shown and his service to the three parishes as their pastor. Acknowledging that "change is never easy" especially in relation to matters of faith and spirituality, Bishop Smith writes, "These changes will certainly require all of us to work together in a spirit of faith, to develop the implementation plans and to assist the pastor in forming everyone into a new worshiping community. I ask that you join together with optimism, confidence, expectation and dependence on the presence of Christ who is always with us, so that our Catholic life in Long Branch will be vibrant well into the future."

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