A significant change is taking place this summer at two of Dearborn County's Catholic churches.
St. Mary Catholic Church in Aurora (shown) is now linked with St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceburg. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.
(Aurora, Ind.) – A shortage of priests is the largest reason St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Lawrenceburg and St. Mary Catholic Church in Aurora now share one pastor.
Last month, priests at the two churches – Father Benjamin Syberg at St. Lawrence and Father Stephen Donahue at St. Mary’s – announced to their parish members that a significant change was about to happen.
The two churches are now considered “linked parishes” by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. According to Syberg, that means the parishes share the same priest while maintaining separate administrations, programming and schools.
“It’s becoming more common,” Syberg explains. “Whatever happens, the church today needs to ask itself what is the best use of resources to serve southern Dearborn County. We have to work together because there is a lot of need out there.”
As of July, Syberg is the priest at both churches. Donahue has transferred to lead two parishes in Tell City, Indiana.
Catholic churches in Aurora and Lawrenceburg are not alone in going through such a change. Having lost more than 40 priests from its roster in the last decade, the archdiocese is ordering similar actions at about a dozen other parishes this summer, according to Syberg.
Priest numbers are falling quickly in Indiana and elsewhere. Many of them are part of the baby boomer generation and are either semi-retired or retired completely.
Syberg quotes Indianapolis Archdiocese numbers in looking at the near future. There are about 90 full-time priests for 126 parishes in the archdiocese today. Within five years, that number may dwindle to just 70. At that point, he believes, the trend should level off.
A new mass schedule implemented on a trial basis for the next six months at St. Mary and St. Lawrence churches. Syberg will conduct masses at St. Mary on Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. and Sundays at 8:00 a.m. St. Lawrence masses will happen Sundays at 9:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Masses during the week will also be split between the two. A committee of members from both parishes worked with Syberg on the plan.
Father Benjamin Syberg. Photo courtesy St. Lawrence Catholic Church.
The priest was happy to see that each of the masses was well-attended during the first weekend on the new schedule, July 6 and 7.
“Mass is just better when you celebrate with a full church,” he remarked.
Syberg says that other changes could be made in the future.
A new program for teens and young adults is in the works. So is a revamping of the parishes’ youth ministries. He is encouraging men from both St. Lawrence and St. Mary to get involved with a new prayer and fellowship program titled That Man Is You, which will meet for the first time on Saturday, September 7.
St. Mary’s School families are already seeing some changes implemented for the coming school year. A miraculous fundraising effort last year helped to keep the school going for another year, but the school’s principal said in December that some classes could be combined.
Very young by today’s priest standards, the 31-year-old Syberg became the pastor at St. Lawrence Church about one year ago, coming to southeastern Indiana from a parish in French Lick.
Now, he is a spiritual leader to more families than any other young priest in the archdiocese. There are 730 families which make up the St. Lawrence parish, while St. Mary’s parish is comprised of 400.
Being from Indianapolis, Fr. Ben previously had no connection to the tri-state area. Still, he has come to love the area, people, communities and LaRosa’s Pizza.
“I am very blessed to be at these two parishes,” he says.
A stained glass window above the vestibule in St. Lawrence Church. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.