Priest Shortage Leads To Church Merger

4/6/08 Visalia, CA Visalia's St. Mary's Catholic Church was standing room only Sunday, a sign of the challenge church leaders are facing. "Fewer priests, more people and that's the challenge we have to try to serve them," said Monsignor Raymond Dreiling.

A priest at Visalia's Holy Family Catholic Church is leaving this month and will not be replaced. As a result, Holy Family and St. Mary's will be merging into a single parish and three priests will be serving people at the area's four churches. Churchgoers said it's sad to see the number of men entering the priesthood dwindle. "We have many different situations going on in our community, gangs, drugs and everything else. And we have many young children coming here to our church and we would like to them to have - in a sense, they're like their mentors," said Aracely Hernandez.

"We just don't have enough men willing to listen, or that are listening to god and willing to become a priest. And I pray for their willingness to listen and hear god everyday," said Jill Dembroff, another churchgoer.

Monsignor Raymond Dreiling said the shortage in priests is partly because of the sacrifice involved. "The fact that we are in the Roman Catholic tradition are called to also a celibate lifestyle makes it difficult for many young men to consider that as an option for them in their lives. But when they see it as an act of love, or an act of giving our lives for the service of god and others it makes a lot of sense," said Dreiling.

Dreiling said Catholics will notice little changes in service as churches merge and the most notable change will be a single administrative office. He considers the merger as an exciting step toward the future. "I see it as a tremendous opportunity for us to work together to build a community and have one voice as a catholic community," said Dreiling.

Church leaders said there will probably be a change in mass schedules and these kinds of mergers have worked successfully in other parts of the country for many years.

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