Sunday will mark the final mass for the Our Lady of Assumption Parish located in Merrill. The church had served the people around Merrill for 135 years.
Bishop Walker Nickless of the Sioux City Diocese will lead the final mass. Nickless says he has had to close five parishes in his tenure.
“It’s never easy, it’s like celebrating a funeral in some ways. Bishops should be opening churches not closing them,” Nickless says. “But we have to face the facts and know that looking at our demographics, looking at the changing population, the family farms are not present anymore, there’s just not enough people to sustain a parish.”
He says Sunday will be very emotional for the congregation and for himself. “The final mass comes as a way of saying thank-you for 135 years of service to the community. And thank-you and congratulations for lasting that long. It’s very hard on the people who were baptized there, had their weddings there, those kinds of things. It’s always an emotional experience for me, for sure,” Nickless says.
Bishop Nickless says nearly 5 years ago, the diocese took a strategic look at all the parishes to determine their sustainability.
“As Bishop I have to balance both the needs of the people in the diocese and also take care of my priests so that we don’t run them ragged,” Nickless says. “And so we look at things like population changes and baptisms for instance. You know, how many people are coming into our parish community, new registration.”
Members of the parish will become members of the nearby St. Joseph’s Parish in Ellendale or All Saints Parish in Le Mars. The church property will be transferred to the Le Mars parish, which will ultimately decide the future of the building and property.
(Reporting and photo by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)