A new parish is forming in Western Maryland.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien announced June 12 that he has accepted the recommendation of the Mountain Maryland Regional Planning Commission to unite the five existing Cumberland-area parishes into one faith community with a single pastoral staff, effective July 1.
The new parish will be known as “Our Lady of the Mountains” and it will be led by Capuchin Franciscan Father Gregory Chervenak as the founding pastor.
Capuchin Franciscan Fathers Bernard Finerty and Stephen Fernandes will serve as parochial vicars at Our Lady of the Mountains, and Capuchin Franciscan Father Eric Gauchat will serve as parochial vicar of the parishes of Western Allegany and Northern Garrett counties. Father Gauchat will also be a chaplain for the Western Maryland Health Care System.
The affected parishes include Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Mary and St. Patrick in Cumberland, St. Ambrose in Cresaptown and St. Patrick in Mount Savage.
Archbishop O’Brien said a united parish is the “best approach” for addressing the “drastic demographic changes and limited resources that are a current and future reality for the area.”
Father Edward Hendricks, chair of the planning commission, noted that the Cumberland area’s population has fallen to 20,859 – down nearly 11,000 from three decades ago. The number of priests serving the five parishes has also declined from 13 in 1979 to four in 2011.
The archbishop commended the planning commission for a collaborative process that led to the recommendation. The plan grew out of two years of review, solicitation of public comments and consultation with national planning experts, he said.
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski met with parishioners during an April 28 town meeting at St. Mary in Cumberland.
“The process has been transparent and inclusive and, though it may not please everyone, I believe it to be the most reasonable and responsible path forward,” Archbishop O’Brien said in a June 12 letter to parishioners.
Father Chervenak told The Catholic Review that details surrounding Mass times and locations still need to be worked out. The priest said he is excited about working with the people of the Cumberland area.
“I feel in a special way that the Holy Spirit is hovering over Cumberland and Mountain Maryland,” Father Chervenak said.
Father Chervenak said he and his brother Franciscans plan to spend much time listening to the people.
“We want to learn the history, hear the stories and understand the culture and traditions,” he said. “We want to continue those traditions – honoring them and celebrating them.”
An Aug. 7 meeting will be held at St. Ambrose to help establish the pastoral council, finance committee and parish corporators, he said.
Father Chervenak called the establishment of a new parish a “wonderful opportunity to work together.”
“I think it will bring out the best in everyone,” he said.
Monsignor James Hannon, pastor of six parishes in Allegany and Garrett counties who has also served as temporary pastor of St. Patrick and St. Mary in Cumberland and St. Patrick in Mount Savage, said the new model will address administrative issues by reducing the number of pastoral councils, finance committees and sets of corporators from five to one.
“That approach will encourage unity,” he said, “something that will serve the people of these sites in a better way. This model also allows the pastor and the parish leadership to work more efficiently for the good of all.”
Monsignor Hannon, who is leaving Western Maryland to become the associate director for clergy personnel at the Catholic Center in Baltimore, said ongoing planning puts Western Maryland on solid footing.
The “Mountain Maryland Six” work closely with one another and share resources. The organization model is effective, he said, because it allows change as it is needed. The model at the Mountain Maryland Six and in Cumberland may not be the same in seven years, he said.
“While many of the changes that have been made in Mountain Maryland are to address a general decline in population over the years here, it is important that we frame the changes in terms of the goal,” Monsignor Hannon said. “The goal is a lively church – living parishes. Staying the same as we did in the past is not an option.”
Visit www.catholicreview.org/matysekblog for a Q&A with Monsignor Hannon.