EL CENTRO – Years in the making, El Centro’s two Catholic parishes have now officially united under a new banner: “Our Lady of the Valley.”
The diocese’s Presbyteral Council approved the merger on May 10, the diocese announced. The decision combines St. Mary and Our Lady of Guadalupe, their respective chapels, and St. Mary’s School into one parish under the name, Our Lady of the Valley. The name replaces “El Centro Catholic.”
“The idea is it’s one parish with two campuses, or three if you include the school,” said Father Mark Edney, the pastor of the unified parish.
Father Edney said both churches will remain open and Mass times will not change, but there will be documents establishing a new parish jurisdiction, in Church and civil law.
“Day-to-day, people aren’t going to notice much difference because we’ve already been doing everything together,” he said.
The merger “gives the Catholic people of El Centro a stronger identity and mission, which is to be a force for good and unity in our community,” he said.
“It enables us to join forces, have greater numbers of volunteers and helpers, combining our human and financial resources to advance our mission,” he added.
The unification means the pastoral and finance councils for each church will combine into one pastoral council and one finance council for the new parish, Father Mark Edney said.
Since these councils have a limited number of seats according to diocesan policy, fewer individuals will be involved in the new parish’s leadership. Each new council, however, will have equal representation from individuals who previously served in each of the previous church councils.
Father Edney said the two churches had been holding joint events, RCIA, confirmations, First Communions, and catechesis (religious education for children) since he became pastor of El Centro Catholic in 2015, with some programs being unified as early as 2013. Many joint events ended with the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, however.
“We’ve worked on this a long time, and it’s been very noticeable that people feel comfortable going from one church to another,” he said. “I think it’s a good sign of unity in a divisive world.”
Some parishioners agreed that the merger was an opportunity to come together.
Juana Cortez, who attends Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, said she hopes that the merger doesn’t lead to fewer Masses in Spanish, however.
Currently, each church offers one Sunday Mass in Spanish. Additionally, Our Lady of Guadalupe offers a bilingual Sunday Mass at 5 p.m. and one Spanish-language weekday Mass at 5 p.m. on Fridays.
“I don’t understand much English, only a little bit,” she said in Spanish. “There are a lot of people here who don’t know English, and during the week they don’t come because there is only one Mass in Spanish.”
Cortez said she hopes there will be more offerings in Spanish at Our Lady of Guadalupe. If that were to happen, she said more Spanish-speakers who have left to attend other churches would come back.
Yvonne Burgun, who has attended St. Mary’s for a long time, saw the upside to the merger, “but you still get some people wanting it to be the way it was.”
“It makes us stronger,” she said of the merger. “You kind of have to get used to it.”