Geography dictated most of the changes recently made to a plan to reorganize Maine’s 135 Roman Catholic parishes into clusters.
The plan, launched last year by Bishop Richard Malone, is designed to address the state’s shifting demographics and a shortage of priests by 2010. The plan abolishes traditional parish lines and relies more on the laity.
In April 2005, the bishop reduced the number of clusters in the diocese from 31 to 27 and asked parishioners and priests in each one to choose from four governance models.
The plans for each cluster were due in June. Over the past month, Malone has announced the approval of most of the plans, with some suggested modifications.
William R. Schulz, the diocese’s director of parish planning for evangelization, said it soon became apparent that modifications to two proposed coastal clusters were necessary.
Originally, the Washington County parishes were to form one cluster. Earlier this month, Malone agreed that it made more sense to divide the county into two clusters.
One will be made up of churches in Machias and Lubec, while the other will include churches in Baileyville, Indian Township, Calais, Eastport and Perry. One priest will serve each cluster.
In the midcoast, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Belfast is being moved from the cluster that included Bucksport and Stonington to the cluster made up of Camden, Rockland, Boothbay Harbor and Newcastle. The parishes in Stonington and Bucksport were moved to the cluster that includes Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Ellsworth.
Malone has announced the following organization of churches within clusters in northern and eastern Maine:
Cluster 1: Eagle Lake, Wallagrass, Fort Kent, St. Francis – Merger of four parishes into one with six worship sites with one priest.
Cluster 2: St. Agatha, Madawaska, Grand Isle, Van Buren, Hamlin – Merger of six parishes into three with churches in Hamlin and Van Buren joining and churches in Grand Isle and Madawaska joining. Churches in Frenchville, St. Agatha and Sinclair merged earlier this year. The cluster would have three priests, with one priest serving each parish.
Cluster 3: Fort Fairfield, Limestone, Caribou, Stockholm, Ashland, Presque Isle, Mars Hill – Merger of eight parishes into one with mission churches in Portage and Washburn with three priests.
Cluster 4: Houlton, Island Falls – Maintain the two parishes as they exist with one priest.
Cluster 5: Millinocket, East Millinocket, Benedicta – Plan to remain three separate parishes with one priest is being reassessed. St. Joseph mission in Sherman Station to be sold.
Cluster 6: Howland, Lincoln – Report still being prepared. One priest would serve the cluster.
Cluster 7: Dover-Foxcroft, Milo, Dexter, Pittsfield – Three parishes in Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft and Milo would merge into one parish with property being sold to fund a new church. Pittsfield would remain a separate parish with one priest serving both.
Cluster 8: Baileyville, Indian Township, Calais, Eastport, Perry – Merger of five parishes onto one with one priest.
Cluster 9: Bradley, Indian Island, Old Town, Orono, Bangor, Brewer, Hampden, Winterport – Merger of 11 parishes into two with Bradley, Indian Island and Orono forming one and Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport forming the other. Four priests will serve the two parishes.
Cluster 10: Machias, Lubec – Merger of two parishes into one with one priest.
Cluster 11: Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Ellsworth, Bucksport, Stonington – Leaning toward merger of five parishes into one with three priests.
Cluster 14: Belfast, Boothbay Harbor, Newcastle, Camden, Rockland – Leaning toward merging some parishes with other remaining separate with three priests.
Cluster 20: Greenville, Jackman – Report still being prepared, but one priest would serve the cluster.