ALLOUEZ — On Dec. 10, there will be a final Mass at 4 p.m. at the church of St. Augustine in Kossuth in Manitowoc County. Bishop David Ricken will be the main celebrant, joined by Fr. John Becker. A dinner and reception will follow at St. Anne Church in Francis Creek.
The parish, founded in 1862 by Bohemian settlers, has seen dwindling numbers in its membership. For example in 1904, there were 100 families; today, there are 28 parish units.
St. Augustine has been linked with St. Anne Parish in Francis Creek and Holy Cross Parish in Mishicot for a number of years, sharing a pastor (Fr. Becker), faith formation and various other programs. Weekend Masses were celebrated by senior priests of the diocese. However, the number of retired priests available is also dwindling.
With all this in mind, a town hall meeting at the parish, facilitated by Mark Mogilka, diocesan director of stewardship and pastoral services, was held earlier this year.
“There is no joy ever in closing a church,” Mogilka said. “But I think that, especially, over recent years, there was a growing awareness on the part of the community itself of its decreasing ability to pay the bills and to care for the facility. … There was some resignation and sadness, but if anything there was a greater sense of ‘Let’s get this done. We’ve talked about it enough.’”
As of Dec. 10, the parish will legally cease and most of its members will join St. Anne Parish in nearby Francis Creek. Some, because of location, may join other nearby parishes.
The name “St. Augustine” will also cease and the church building will be officially closed. The parish will be merged with St. Anne, which will also take over responsibility for St. Augustine’s cemetery.
While its doors will close, the care of St. Augustine’s community has been an important part in this transition.
“The key is that the pastoral care of the people had to be taken care of,” explained Fr. John Girotti, vicar for canonical services for the diocese. “Whenever a parish is closed, people don’t evaporate. We have to find a place for them — that’s a canonical process. The new parish takes on the responsibility and the debts.”
According to canon law (n. 515), before a parish can be closed (“reduced in status”), the bishop must ask the diocesan priests’ (presbyteral) council to approve the reduction of the parish. This has been done.
Additionally, the diocesan chancellor must arrange for an official decree from the diocese to be posted at both the church building at Kossuth and the church at Francis Creek for two weeks prior to the Dec. 10 Mass. This allows for official notification to all concerned parties and gives them enough time to register any objections.
St. Augustine Parish has never been served by a resident pastor, but has shared priests with other parishes, including Francis Creek and St. Joseph in Kellnersville.
According to canon law (n. 1222), the Kossuth church building’s status will change after the final Mass and after all its church furnishings are removed. The building can then be used for “secular but not unbecoming purpose,” which allows for it to be sold.
Mogilka noted that the church building is in good condition at this point and the parish members would like it to be placed on the market. Some of its artifacts — including statues of St. Augustine and the Blessed Virgin — will go to St. Anne Church. Other artifacts will be donated to the missions or sold, along with some of the church furnishings. Most of the proceeds from these sales will go to the perpetual care fund for the St. Augustine Cemetery; any residuals will go to St. Anne Parish.
St. Augustine “is really the last of its kind,” Fr. Girotti noted, adding that most of the other smaller parishes in the diocese were either closed or merged with other parishes 20 to 50 years ago. He said that, in some ways, St. Augustine has offered a link to “a time from horse and buggy days.”
Mogilka added that, despite their decreasing number, St. Augustine has “had a phenomenal group of volunteers that maintained the facilities, maintained the cemetery for many years.”