MERIDEN — The Rev. Thomas Sievel is now the only priest serving the three churches in Our Lady Queen of Angels parish following the reassignment of a priest by the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Sievel has been overseeing the 2017 Catholic church consolidation that led to five churches merging into one parish at three campuses in Meriden. He initially had help from a vicar to handle the weddings, funerals, baptisms and masses at Holy Angels, St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but the Rev. Lee Hellwig has been reassigned to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury.
“It’s really two-fold,” Sievel said. “Our numbers of priests has decreased exponentially. In 2017, there were 168 active priests in the diocese. Now we’re down to 140. The other reason is there isn’t sufficient funds.”
The church closings and mergers allowed the struggling archdiocese to create 127 parishes out of its existing 212 statewide. Of the 127 parishes, 68 remained as they are, and 59 were formed through mergers of two to six churches. The Archdiocese of Hartford serves Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven counties.
The archdiocese faced a dilemma with churches that had too many service in too many places that were sparsely attended. Financial shortfalls led to many school closures, and the priest shortage made it difficult to service the excess number of open churches.
In Meriden, Sievel’s goal was to identify and utilize the strengths in the three existing churches and create a church council to steer the members through the changes.
“It puts a big strain on us,” Sievel said about Hellwig’s departure. “Last year, there were 125 funerals, and there were two of us doing them. We are an aging community. We do 45 baptisms a year as opposed to 125 funerals.”
But the church needs to continue to look forward as opposed to decades ago when churches and schools were well-attended and new priests were being ordained every day.
“We need to continue to form this new identify as a parish,” he said.
The steering committee and the finance council are working to maintain spiritual satisfaction and financial solvency. Holy week activities were filled, the parish has 30 people in its choir, and plans are under way for the annual fiesta, and golf tournament. Lenten activities including the Stations of the Cross and simple soup supper were well attended.
“I think people are pulling together,” he said. “I am very hopeful. It’s more work of course. You need to blend the needs of the parish with what I need. We’re working on that.”
The transfer of one priest means the elimination of one Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Sunday. Priests from the Holy Apostle Seminary in Cromwell will come in on some weekends to help with Masses.
“Each campus will have two weekend Masses,” Sievel said.
The Archdiocese is constantly making changes to its parishes.
“It’s not just Meriden, they have to merge these parishes,” he said.