Let Fr. James Reymann stay at the rectory.
That was the message from about 75 parishioners who gathered last Tuesday to share their concerns about his upcoming retirement from St. Patrick’s Church.
“It would be easier for us to follow if it was more of a phased-out departure than, ‘Chop, you’re gone in 45 days.’ That has a lot of people upset,” said Gerry Largent, one of those gathered. “This is our community, this is our parish, these are our people, he’s part of our family.”
Reymann, who has served 40 years, recently announced his Feb. 28 retirement.
Parishioners have voiced concerns about where he will live, leading to a meeting with several representatives from the Cleveland Catholic Diocese.
Church rules require pastors to submit their resignation at age 75 and Bishop Richard Lennon determines the outcome, said Fr. Don Oleksiak, diocesan administrator, who traveled to St. Patrick’s church to facilitate the conversation.
Reymann is now 91, so his stay has already been extended. The longest reigning pastor was 57 years.
“This is a unique situation,” Oleksiak said. “Father has been here for 40 years. You know him well, he knows you well, he knows all your names, probably all your kids’ names, and probably your pet’s names. He knows you all very, very well.”
But, he said, it’s time for next phase of life for Reymann.
Can he stay in the rectory? “No,” Oleksiak said. “He has to move out and find other options.”
Reymann can move into a private residence, a diocesan facility, another rectory, or wherever else he chooses. Oleksiak said it’s a diocesan policy, which came in late 1970s.
“I know of one exception of a priest in Akron who was dying,” Oleksiak said. “Father is independent. There are a lot of options for him.”
Some of those gathered disputed that claim. They said Reymann has been looking for places, but some won’t allow him to keep his beloved boxer, Pat, who is over 35 pounds. He is also an avid gardener and has built up the St. Patrick’s grounds into a virtual arboretum over the years. Others called it disrespectful to force him to leave after having served 40 years.
“It’s his call,” Oleksiak said. “The only call that’s not his is to live in the rectory. When you are ordained you take a vow, promise of obedience. Part of that is to be obedient to the bishop and diocesan policy. It has nothing to do with father, it is for all of us.”
The policy exists so people fully accept the new pastor as their leader, Oleksiak said.
“It’s not my decision to make. It’s the policy. The family asked for reconsideration.” Oleksiak said he will present the parishioners’ and family’s concerns to the bishop. “It’s the bishop’s call.”
“Our goal is a seamless transition,” he said. “Father will retire. The new priest will come in to start a new phase of life here in St. Patrick’s in Wellington… The next guy is going to be different. He may be young and good looking, he may be old and cantankerous, but he is a priest who is ordained by the church, sent by the bishop to provide spiritual, sacramental, and pastoral care.”
Reymann led people in an opening prayer and joked they find “a nice, young man good looking, handsome, good speaker, and if you don’t find that, it’s too bad.”
People laughed and gave their faithful servant a standing ovation. They described their church as a conservative, friendly, loving family.
To date, eight people have expressed interest in serving as the new pastor.
Whomever takes the job will face a changing world. In the 1960s, 600 diocesan priests covered 280 parishes. Today, there are 260 diocesan priests for eight counties and 26 are under the age of 40.
Oleksiak said that in the next five years there will be 35 pastors turning 75 and stepping down. There is not only a reduction in clergy, but a reduction in number of Catholics.
“We need to be innovative in how we’re staffing,” Oleksiak said. St. Patrick’s future pastor will likely have other responsiblities. “It will take some adjustment,” he said. “The next guy will have his own gifts and talents.”
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
Photos by Catherine Gabe | Wellington Enterprise
Fr. James Reymann, who has led St. Patrick’s parish for 40 years, leads a prayer kicking off a meeting about his retirement.