One year has passed since four North Hills’ parishes combined to form Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. While challenges abound any time church bodies merge, factor in a global pandemic, and things were a bit rocky at first.
Despite the usual—and unprecedented—obstacles, Our Lady of Mount Carmel is flourishing. Father John Rushofsky, the combined parish’s pastor, reflected on the last year and his hopes for continuing to move his church family forward.
When Four Become One
In May 2020, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced plans to merge more than 72 individual parishes into 15 combined parishes by July 1, 2020. Included in those plans were four parishes in the North Hills: Saint Athanasius in West View; Incarnation of the Lord in Observatory Hill; Saint Sebastian in Ross Township, and Saint Teresa of Avila in Perrysville, which merged to become Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Father Rushofsky said he was pleased with the new name to represent the four former parishes, and the congregation also seems content with the choice. “I’ve heard not one complaint about the new name,” he said. “I’m honestly not surprised. I told Bishop Zubik that it was an excellent choice. You really can’t go wrong with the Blessed Mother.”
As part of the conditions of the merger, all four church buildings continue to be used by parishioners. However, staff was reduced as part of the cost-savings plan for combining the four parishes into one. The four separate parishes went from 66 employees down to 36, which Father Rushofsky said was the most difficult part of the merger for him.
Although it was hard to make the cuts, the decision to consolidate staffing affords the combined parish greater access to resources. “We brought all of our staff members into one building (St. Teresa), and it’s the first time we’ve all been under the same roof,” said Father Rushofsky. “Not only does it reduce our office expenses, but it also improves communication. Before we consolidated, we had staff members who had never met one another in person.”
Combining parishes is a difficult endeavor, but one that Father Rushofsky was qualified to handle. “This was not my first time going through a merger. I was part of the McKeesport parish mergers in the 1990s. I joked back then and thanked God that I would never have to go through that again, yet here I am, going through it again,” he laughed.
The experience he gained during the 1990 merger better prepared him for leading parishioners through the process here. Merging four parishes into one is not an easy process, the pastor explained. “Parishes have their own rich histories, their own identities, their own cultures, and you must be sensitive to all these things,” he said. “You have the natural resistance that goes along with any kind of change. People take their parishes personally, and they don’t like anything to change.”
Clear and frequent communication throughout the process was the key to a successful transition. Transparency with the process—including the knowledge that it would be difficult for all—kept the merger from hitting roadblocks.
“I’m open, upfront, and honest with them about what I’m planning,” said Father Rushofsky. “One of the things I’ve done that has been well-received by the parishioners is a recorded video I do twice a month to talk to them about a topic relating to our parish. I believe communication is the key to continuing with a smooth transition.”
Reaping the Rewards
One of the biggest advantages of the merger is the improvement in spiritual leadership, said Father Rushofsky. Among the changes was the hiring of St. Teresa’s former music director to lead the new combined parish, and all of the social ministry programs from the four parishes also combined to form a powerhouse of resources that will improve their service to the community.
Moving forward, Father Rushofsky said he will continue to practice patience and assure parishioners that results will come, even if they are not immediate. “What guides me is what is best for the people,” he said. “As long as I keep putting them first, we can do anything.”