The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 23, 2013

Through the storm

Catholic community finds way to meet 2 churches’ needs

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Both Catholic churches in Enid are thriving and vibrant two years after it appeared one would be closed.

St. Gregory the Great Church sailed through the storm of a closure announcement made two years ago and emerged on the other side intact, despite a shortage of priests to serve just that parish.

The Rev. Joseph Irwin and the Rev. Rajesh Mankena, both officed at St. Francis Catholic Church, serve both Enid congregations as well as St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Goltry. This gives the pair seven masses each weekend. Once a week, Irwin spends time in the office at St. Gregory’s.

Irwin said St. Francis has about 1,100 active families in the church, and St. Gregory has about 300 active families.

There has been little change in the outreach ministries run by each church, Irwin said, but St. Gregory’s no longer operates a food bank.

“We are one of the parishes that stopped our regular food bank and are supporting Loaves and Fishes,” Irwin said.

Beyond that change, the other roles of both parishes continue as before. St. Gregory’s still supports Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting. St. Francis still has Our Daily Bread and St. Joseph Catholic School.

Families of both parishes are involved in outreach, Irwin said.

“I found them as a congregation to be very faithful and very loving,” Irwin said. “They love their church, they love their faith and they love giving of their time. That’s what I found in both churches.”

The parishes continue to have individual programs for religious education and separate parish councils. Both work through the different issues of the parishes and maintain separate bank accounts, Irwin said. Each congregation is autonomous even though the pastoral leadership is shared.

Yet, having shared pastoral leadership has its advantages.

“If I decide to do something like bring in a speaker, I’ll just do that for both parishes,” Irwin said.

The children’s summer program is now shared between the parishes, Irwin noted.

Irwin praised the leaders in the congregations.

“The leaders at both places are very good at taking initiative on their own,” Irwin said. “That’s kind of impressive to me.”

He believes things are going well all the way around.

“I get the sense that people are happy, excited about the future of the congregation, and they’re really interesting in putting everything behind them.”

Then-Archbishop Eusebius Beltran had announced two years ago St. Gregory’s would cease to operate when its priest, Father Larry Kowalski retired in June 2011. But Beltran was about to retire himself, and the next archbishop, Paul S. Coakley, changed the verdict.