By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
From where Father Dennis Apoldite stood on the grounds of the Mercer County CYO Day Camp in Yardville, it wasn’t the sparkling Olympic-sized swimming pool, spacious tree-lined grounds and ample picnic facilities that caught his eye.
His attention instead was completely focused on the “blending of faces of two groups of people” seated before him.
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On a sunny and seasonably warm July 9 afternoon, Father Apoldite brought the faithful of his new parish community, which is now composed of Divine Mercy Parish and Sacred Heart Parish, together for a Mass and barbecue where they prayed, shared camaraderie and prepared to journey into the future as a new community of faith.
As of July 1, the two Trenton communities ceased to be individual parishes and were merged into a new entity under the name of Sacred Heart Parish. The merger marks one of the first parish changes resulting from the Diocese of Trenton’s pastoral planning initiative, Faith In Our Future, which was commissioned by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in 2015 in order to strengthen and enliven parishes of the Diocese.
The process of parish study and pastoral planning was not new to either community. Both had been part of the 2005 Trenton Ward Study which resulted in the now 203-year-old Sacred Heart Parish and the oldest parish in New Jersey remaining a self-standing parish while Divine Mercy Parish was created resulting from the merger of three city parishes – Holy Cross, St. Stanislaus and SS. Peter and Paul. The first experience that Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy Parishes had in coming together was in 2013 when the two parishes were linked and Father Apoldite, who had been pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, was appointed by Bishop O’Connell to also serve as pastor of Divine Mercy Parish. Even though the parishes shared a pastor, the parishes remained as independent entities until July 1 when the new parish configuration became effective.
The decision to merge Divine Mercy Parish into Sacred Heart Parish was one outcome announced Jan. 25 by Bishop O’Connell following the 18-month Faith In Our Future pastoral planning process that involved the study of the Diocese’s 107 parishes. In all there will be 17 parishes from around the four-county Diocese that will be merged and consolidated into eight new parishes over a three-year period.
On July 1, 2018, Sacred Heart parish will undergo another change when it merges with Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton. This merger will result in the suspension of operations in Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd, however, the celebration of the parish’s Gospel Mass will be transferred to Sacred Heart Church.
A New Day
At the Mass before the picnic, Father Apoldite focused his homily on the underlying message in the day’s Gospel, “For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” He drew a comparison between two oxen walking side by side and covered with a yoke as they are being guided to their destination. Similarly, Father Apoldite said that a yoke has now been draped over the shoulders of the community of Sacred Heart Parish and Jesus, and together “we walk side by side into the future.”
As the newly merged parish of Sacred Heart adjusts to the changes of “what used to be,” Father Apoldite said for his parishioners to remember that “Jesus is taking us by the hand and leading us.”
“Some of us are going to fall, trip and stumble, and we will help each other up,” he said.
Father Apoldite smiled as he spoke of how blessed he was to be pastor of the newly formed faith community.
“We are at the start of a great future,” he said. “Let us pray for each other and please, pray for me as your priest. Be at peace with yourself and with God.”
As Father Apoldite watched the parishioners enjoy the barbecue and CYO facilities, he shared with The Monitor some of the logistics that must be addressed during this transition:
Among the tasks to be managed are: 1) Transferring sacramental records; 2) Creating a unified financial structure for the one parish; 3) Restructuring staff and establishing new parish and finance councils; 4) Melding the religious education program and other ministries; 5) Determining how the various buildings on the two campuses will be utilized.
Father Apoldite said that overall parishioners from both worship sites worked well together during the Faith In Our Future process and have responded positively to the merger. He noted that members of Holy Cross Church are “happy in that they are not losing their church.
“They did have that fear,” he said.
While the merging process, especially of inner-city parishes has presented its share of challenges, Father Apoldite was pragmatic when he said that the process reflects the “sign of the times.”
“It’s no longer the case that there needs to be a parish for every nationality,” he said, briefly citing examples such as how Holy Cross and St. Stanislaus Parishes had served Polish communities and St. Joachim Parish had ministered to the Italian population.
Sue Fugate, an active member of Sacred Heart Parish for 12 years, whose son attended the parish religious education program, commended Bishop O’Connell’s foresight and judgement and the handling of the Faith In our Future process.
“Sometimes change has to happen,” she said. “And we have to rely on our faith to help see us through the change.”
Sally Lane, whose family affiliation with Sacred Heart Parish spans five generations, remarked on the “wonderful sense of community” that exists within the parish. Lane, who has been involved with Faith In Our Future as chair of Cohort 10 and also co-chairs the merging group with Michael Days from Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, added that she looks forward to the opportunity to interact with the folks from Divine Mercy Parish.
Priscilla Bloking, a lifelong Trentonian with roots in St. Stanislaus, Holy Cross and Divine Mercy Parishes, admitted that while transition can be hard, “it’s up to us to make life what we want it to be. And if we want to have unity in our parish and for people to get along, we have to have trust in the Lord.
“It’s all about giving the merger a chance,” she said.
Father Apoldite felt that the Mass and picnic provided a positive way for his parishioners to interact, especially in that it was only a week since the merging of parishes occurred, and he encouraged other parishes undergoing mergers to find ways to bring their folks together.
One upcoming event is scheduled for Sept. 10 when St. Joseph Parish and Jesus the Lord Parish, both Keyport, will gather for a multi-cultural Mass at 11:30 a.m. in St. Joseph Church, followed by a potluck community picnic from 1 to 5 p.m. The event is planned to bring the two parishes together which are preparing to merge next year.
Our goal is to bring these two parishes together to form one family,” said Cathy Strauss of St. Joseph Parish, who was hopeful that the event will bring out as many as 400 attendees for food, music and games for the kids.