Change in church status saddens parishioners

Regular Masses will end in March when Winlock parish becomes a ‘station’

By Janet Cleaveland

Marilyn Pursely has been a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Winlock since 1977, where she serves on the parish council, sings in the choir and leads 23 children in the sacramental prep program.

Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Winlock
Parishioners attend Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Winlock, where they have treasured their close-knit parish family. Photo: David Cleaveland

Come March 2, however, Sacred Heart’s status changes from a parish to a “station,” a place where Mass and other liturgies are celebrated periodically. That means Sunday Mass will no longer be celebrated at the church, established in 1908.

“Church is the family that gathers there, and that is the end of the bilingual service,” Pursely said of the parish that is 85 percent Latino. “That service is shattered.”

But with just 55 registered households and about 125 parishioners, the parish fell victim to a continuing shortage of priests and dwindling resources, according to the pastor, Father Tim Ilgen.

“The church in Winlock was in the red financially and struggling and so was the projection for the future,” said Father Ilgen, who oversees nine churches in Lewis County.

Father Ilgen said he understands the pain and sacrifice Sacred Heart parishioners are shouldering as they make a transition to other parishes in the Lewis County cluster. “Sacred Heart parishioners have knit a close family,” he said.

Sacred Heart Church Winlock exterior
Sacred Heart Church in Winlock, home to 55 households, was established in 1908. The parish will become a station in March. Photo: David Cleaveland

For David Martinez of Morton, the 40-mile drive to attend Sacred Heart is a journey of love that he has made for 10 years. His three children are in faith formation classes, and his youngest was slated to receive first Communion before the end of Sunday Masses. Martinez also attends all-night adoration and serves as a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. “We make the drive because this is home,” Martinez said.

Many Sacred Heart parishioners are expected to transfer to St. Mary in Centralia, St. Francis Xavier in Toledo or St. Joseph in Chehalis, where Father Ilgen is based. He is assisted by a parochial vicar and two retired priests.

With Sunday Masses celebrated at eight of the nine churches in the cluster, the priests are on the move and stretched thin over Lewis County. One of the churches, Holy Family in Frances, is in Pacific County.

In a letter to parishioners announcing the change, Father Ilgen asked them to pray for vocations, lamenting the reality of fewer priests and the resulting inability to minister fully to the faithful.

After March 2, Sacred Heart Church will be available for funerals for longtime parishioners and weddings for couples who were regular attendees. The archdiocese will be responsible for maintaining the church, which was a Franciscan church for 88 years. The Franciscans, also facing financial pressures and a shortage of priests, turned Sacred Heart over to the archdiocese in 1996.

February 28, 2014