Franciscan priests from the St. Anthony of Padua Province, based in Ellicott City, Md., have provided pastoral care at Auburn’s St. Hyacinth Parish for nearly 80 years. That legacy is set to end Jan. 1, 2006.
Franciscan Father Mark Curesky will leave the parish in June after less than a year as its pastor. The parish’s previous pastor, Franciscan Father Berard Dudek, has been living at the parish since his retirement last fall but also will depart in June.
The Franciscan order will continue to provide a sacramental minister for St. Hyacinth through the end of December, but Father Louis Vasile, pastor of Auburn’s St. Alphonsus Parish, will become parochial administrator of the parish effective June 28.
The Franciscans are withdrawing from the Auburn parish because their province of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual is experiencing a priest shortage.
“We’re experiencing the same difficulties the diocese is having,” Father Curesky said. “Our vocations are down, and we don’t have enough men to fulfill the commitments that we have.”
“We’ve had to pull out of some parishes. We don’t have the numbers we’ve had in the past,” said Father Donald Grzymski, vicar provincial of the St. Anthony of Padua Province.
Father Grzymski said St. Hyacinth and the surrounding area also no longer provide an optimum environment for the Franciscan priests, who ideally live in communities of at least three.
“The place doesn’t need three friars,” Father Grzymski said. “It used to be a much bigger parish.”
In the fall of 2004 St. Hyacinth and the Auburn Catholic Community began formulating a new five-year pastoral plan, and in October of that year, the Franciscan province informed Bishop Matthew H. Clark that a Franciscan presence at St. Hyacinth should not be a part of the plan. Several months later Father Curesky learned he would receive a new assignment in August 2005.
The plan originally was to be submitted by June 30, 2005, and the Franciscans decided to maintain a presence at St. Hyacinth through December 2005 to facilitate a smooth transition when the new plan took effect, Father Curesky wrote in an April 8 bulletin insert. When it became evident that the plan would not be finished on time, diocesan and provincial officials agreed not to bring in a new Franciscan priest who would wind up leaving in December after only five months on the job.
“It was decided that it would not be helpful to the planning process to have a new friar-priest try to pick up where I had left off and be involved in the planning process. This is why it was decided to have one of the current pastors in Auburn assume parochial leadership of St. Hyacinth’s for the remainder of the planning process,” Father Curesky wrote.
The Franciscans’ departure is not the only change facing Auburn’s Catholics, however.
In June, Father Peter DeBellis will leave his pastorate at Auburn’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish, and Father James Burke will retire as priest administrator at Auburn’s Holy Family Parish. So, in a letter dated March 10, Father Curesky, Father Vasile and planning-group cochairs Robert Steigerwald and Paul Liberatore asked the bishop to appoint Father Vasile to the temporary position of parochial administrator at St. Hyacinth. Bishop Clark approved the request March 29.
As parochial administrator, Father Vasile will oversee the parish until the Auburn Catholic Community’s pastoral plan is finished, said Deb Housel, the group’s diocesan planning liaison. The planning group should have its plan finalized by the end of December, and Father Vasile will “keep the community happily intact until there’s a permanent appointment,” she said.
Although Father Vasile will not be pastor of St. Hyacinth, he will take care of the parish’s administrative duties and work with its pastoral council, while a Franciscan sacramental minister will take care of most of the parish’s sacramental needs, Housel said. It’s common to establish this type of temporary leadership for a parish that is in the process of devising a pastoral plan or one that faces a sudden leadership change due to death or illness, she said.
Once the plan is finished, the part pertaining to St. Hyacinth probably will be implemented immediately.
“Because of this situation, this piece of the plan might move right away,” Housel said.