I would like to comment on some statements in the Feb. 10 article, “St. Bernardine faithful participate in new pastor search.”
The reporter states that the new pastor selection process meeting took place so suddenly after Fr. George (Velloorattil’s) announcement of departure as to indicate “everyone involved was anxious to turn the page and begin a new chapter.” In fact, the Archdiocese runs the priest placement process by the same calendar every year. As the standard six-year term of a parish pastor is fulfilled, he must decide if he wants to stay another term, or transfer. According to Fr. Knotek (quoted in the article), the stay-or-leave split is about 50/50 throughout the diocese. Every fall the transfer request list is compiled, parishes notified, and information-gathering meetings begin mid-winter, with the goal of making recommendations to the bishops by spring, and reassignments by early summer. New priests are thus settled in by late summer or early fall.
In fact, Fr. George vacillated when approached at the end of his first term mid-2014. Because he made his decision in late January, to keep on target, the archdiocese had to schedule its visit to St. Bernardine abruptly. Thus the parish meeting was “sudden” because it was sorely behind schedule.
The article went on to state that some members and a deacon left the parish, and the school closed during Fr. George’s term, implying that these events were tied to the pastor’s leadership, or his “conservative Catholic views.” No doubt some folks did leave for those reasons — and some may have joined, or stayed. One would need to interview the deacon involved if one wanted to know the truth. But the school did not close because of Fr. George.
St. Bernardine School experienced annual declining enrollment since the early 1980s, as large Catholic families have also declined, among other pressing demographics. In its final years, the private school enrolled many non-Catholic children, and provided generous scholarships for low-income families despite its ever-tightening budget.
The archdiocese took over the administration of St. Bernardine School two years before making the decision to close its doors. The hard reality is simple: it became financially reckless to pump limited resources into the 90-year-old institution.
One final comment: the Feb. 4 meeting in the parish hall was not open to the general public, for the same reasons that many meetings, institutional and otherwise, are closed most of the time: to assure candor and keep the influences appropriate. Unfortunately, neither the priest nor the bishop knew that a reporter was present. I believe that everyone is entitled to know if his or her statements may become a part of the public record because what we say, what we mean, what others hear and understand can be quite different things.
St. Bernardine parishioner
Editor’s note: Tom Holmes, the Review’s religion columnist and freelance reporter, introduced himself to the three Catholic priests at the St. Bernardine’s meeting and requested post meeting interviews which he received.