New Manitowoc parish named for St. Francis
The city's six parishes will become one July 1
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
In 1206, the Lord asked St. Francis to "rebuild my church." The saint from Assisi has been doing so ever since - most recently, in Manitowoc.
The six parishes in that lakeside city are building a new parish - a new expression of their church. On Feb. 20, the name and patron of that new parish were announced: St. Francis of Assisi.
"It's a great name in that it captures the history and tradition of the area," said Fr. Dan Felton, who led the ritual of birthing and naming preceding the announcement. "Manitowoc is greatly impacted by a Franciscan presence - the Manitowoc Franciscan Sisters (of Christian Charity) and the Franciscan priests (now serving at St. Mary, St. Andrew and St. Boniface parishes)."
And the city's Catholic elementary schools were all named for a Francis or a Frances.
Fr. Felton, currently pastor at St. Raphael Parish in Oshkosh, will become parish administrator at St. Paul's in Manitowoc March 5.
The work of combining the six parishes - St. Boniface, St. Paul, St. Mary, Holy Innocents, St. Andrew and Sacred Heart - has been under way for about 18 months, as part of ongoing parish planning throughout the diocese. On July 1, the six will become a new parish - St. Francis at 12:01 a.m.
"It's been a moving experience of the Holy Spirit, helping a community tackle some challenging issues and concerns and to emerge on the other side with a total of positive energy and emotion," said Mark Mogilka, director of Diocesan Pastoral Services and chair
of the Diocesan Planning Committee. In that position, he has advised the parishes and 17 various committees as they have moved to this point in their history.
Part of that energy went into choosing a new name. Parish members and students in the religious education programs and the Catholic schools of the Manitowoc system (MACS) all submitted names, along with reasons to pick their selection. Of the dozens of names, the
parishes narrowed the choices to three - Our Lady of the Lake (for Lake Michigan), Christ the King (a name not currently used in the diocese) and St. Francis. The final decision rested with Bp. Zubik.
Mogilka admitted that there is still a lot of work ahead and some rough spots remaining. "The early part (of combining parishes) was not easy; I don't want to be a Pollyanna about coming to this spot," he said, adding that - despite the difficulties - "everyone, everywhere was always amazed at the spirit present every time we gathered."
The future of the six parish sites is yet to be determined. The St. Mary, Holy Innocents and St. Andrew buildings will be used as worship sites after July 1. What happens to the other churches is still in question and a matter of shifting demographics in the city. There is still the question of the parish center - since there will now be 26 staff members, all of whom need to be hired before July 1 - and the housing of religious education programs.
Much will be determined by the new parish council and finance council, which were inaugurated Feb. 17, and Fr. Felton, whom the diocese plans to name as pastor of the new St. Francis Parish. For now, the priest - who served his first years after ordination in 1981 as associate pastor of Holy Innocents - is looking forward to "physically being in that space, so I can roll up my sleeves along with everyone else."
Rolling up their sleeves to build a church has been part of Manitowoc's tradition - from the founding of St. Boniface Parish in March 1853, to the founding of Holy Innocents Parish in 1932, to the founding of MACS in 1989.
The task of acknowledging that tradition fell to a St. Frances Cabrini Middle School sixth grader. Eleven-year-old Seth Duprey got to announce the new name to the congregation Sunday afternoon. He tipped his hat to the "great, great, great grandparents" who had named Manitowoc's parishes before him, and added that he hoped that, sometime, he would be remembered as "the great, great, great grandfather" who announced a new parish name "way back in 2005."