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Parishes in Tilton, Franklin merge to form Saint Gabriel

Catholic parishes in Franklin and Tilton have merged to form one consolidated parish, Saint Gabriel, the Diocese of Manchester has announced.

Saint Paul Parish in Franklin and Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish in Tilton combined for the new parish. The Rev. Raymond Gagnon, who previously served as pastor of both churches, will act as pastor of Saint Gabriel.

“The buildings are staying where they are, and they’re keeping the names they have,” Gagnon said. “What changes is the group of people that form the community. They become a new entity with a new identity, and that’s where Saint Gabriel comes in.”

The former parish churches will remain as the two worship sites for Saint Gabriel and will keep their names as Saint Paul Church and Saint Mary of the Assumption Church, as Gagnon said. The parish headquarters, including its business office, telephone number and mailing address, will be located at Saint Paul.

The merger officially took effect Monday and did not come as a surprise, Gagnon said. It had been in the works for about five years and began with a study and a discussion between parishes in the area. In 2009, he said, the group determined Saint Paul and Saint Mary would merge when it became necessary.

In 2011, the parishes were twinned, which means their finances remained separate but they shared a pastor. The pastor of Saint Mary of the Assumption retired, and Gagnon, who had served as pastor at Saint Paul since 2004, became pastor of both parishes.

“With the twinning process, that’s when you learn more about each other and start the process of merging,” he said.

One of the most difficult changes for parishioners during the merging process is scheduling Masses, he said. When Saint Paul and Saint Mary were twinned two years ago, they cut weekend Masses from three at each parish to two at each.

“You have to adjust Mass times and people have to get used to going at a different time,” Gagnon said. “When you start messing around with people’s schedules, they are not always happy.”

On the positive side, consolidating Masses means a larger congregation at each Mass, which Gagnon said leads to a better service.

The merge has many additional benefits for both him and parishioners, he said. The pastor now only has one parish council and one finance board, which streamlines the meeting process. The parishioners will collaborate for future social activities and fundraisers.

“They will work better because you get more people working on them and also more people supporting them,” Gagnon said.

The parishioners began working together when they voted on the name of their new parish. Of about 15 choices, Gagnon said Saint Gabriel Parish was the clear winner.

Saint Gabriel held the first of its gatherings Sunday at Saint Paul Church. Bishop of Manchester Peter Libasci attended the event for the proclamation of the new parish and celebratory cookout.

“We had about 350 to 400 people who came for the meal, and the bishop did a wonderful job,” Gagnon said. “He stayed around for a couple hours after and met just about everybody who showed up.”

The event’s success demonstrates one of the benefits of the new combined parish, he said.

“Basically, when you get more people working together, it makes for a better dynamic,” Gagnon said. “This was a chance for all of us to take a good look at what it means to be a church and to commit ourselves to the vision of what our ancestors had of what Saint Gabriel wants us to do, which is to bring Christ’s message to the world.”

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan@cmonitor.com.)

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