There are big changes coming to the Long Beach Catholic community. The Rev. Brian Barr, pastor of St. Mary of the Isle Roman Catholic Church, is preparing to take over the responsibilities at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and, eventually, St. Ignatius Martyr Church.
The three parishes will remain as they are now, but will be united under Barr’s leadership. Bishop John Oliver Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre appointed Barr to take over the position at Miraculous Medal once the Rev. Joseph Nixon, the parish’s current administrator, moves on to a new role on June 26.
Upon the planned retirement of Msgr. Donald Beckmann as pastor of St. Ignatius, 721 W. Broadway, Barr will be also appointed as pastor of the parish in June next year.
One area this affects is services. Because there will be fewer priests available, there will be fewer Masses offered, Barr said. But he isn’t without assistance.
Special groups were formed among the congregants of Miraculous Medal, 75 Parkside Rd. Dr., Point Lookout, and St. Mary’s, 315 E. Walnut St., known as Parish Councils. Each council, consisting of community leaders, recently joined for a meeting to discuss the future of the parishes. Barr will also have help from other local priests to consult and plan for Mass schedules, sacramental services and parish ministries to help accommodate congregants.
What’s happening in Long Beach — where churches are seeing a decline in the availability of priests — is happening in many different places, Barr and congregants said. Over the past 10 to 20 years, churches have been consolidating in different ways, Barr explained.
While the shifts represent a significant change in the way the parishes interact, it also serves as an opportunity for the leadership to increase efforts to evangelize. “Three parishes — one mission” is the phrase that church officials have used to describe the transition.
“If you’re Catholic and you’re coming from a common philosophy of life, and coming from a common moral foundation and belief system, it’s ridiculous to let geography be this defining factor,” Barr said.
He emphasized the advantages, such as the congregants of each parish becoming aware of all of the different services and social events offered, such as fundraisers, guest speakers, dances and holiday drives.
“There’s things that happen in one parish that the other parishes don’t really hear much about, or maybe they hear about it at a distance,” Barr explained. “Say there’s something happening in Point Lookout. There are people down at St. Ignatius and St. Mary’s who would love to go to that event.”
While he said the transition is big news in terms of structure, the idea of working together is “not really so new.”
“Let’s let everyone know,” he said. “There’s strength in numbers. We can combine forces, talent and resources, and I think it makes for a stronger church. The adjustment factor here is going to go quicker and better because we’ve kind of been acting in this spirit all along.”
St. Mary’s congregant Dr. Dennis Ryan, who serves on the Parish Council and the Long Beach school board, said it’s necessary to deal with the diminishing number of priests, but was hopeful for the future.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing for the church on the barrier island,” Ryan said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting test to see how parishioners from both parishes are going to have to learn to deal with the masses and sharing a priest. It’s going to be difficult … but under [Barr’s] leadership, it will work.”
Ryan said congregants are fortunate to have Barr because, during his time at St. Mary’s, he has “energized” the church and brought his passion to the table, especially during his well-known beach masses and sermons.
“I think his energy will transfer to everybody, but the parish councils have to work together … to discuss what we need to do as we move forward,” Ryan said. “We have to look for what’s the greater good and adjust.”
“To be a part of the future of the church and kind of be a voice in a role in that, I’m psyched,” Barr said enthusiastically. “I’m not naive to think it’s going to be a smooth sail, but I’m pumped.”