Immigration issues force clergy, parish realignments for local Roman Catholic churches

Significant clergy and parish realignments within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington were recently announced in a number of communities as a result of changes to U.S. immigration policies and processes.

As a result, some Vermont parishes will be without a resident priest - including Our Lady of Mercy in Putney - for at least the next year.

Two local parishes and chapels will see clergy transfers effective July 1.

Rev. Henry Furman, pastor of St. Luke and Ascension Parishes in Fairfax and Georgia, will transfer to St. Michael's Parish in Brattleboro. Rev. Justin Baker, the current pastor there, will in turn move to Christ the King–St. Anthony Parish in Burlington.

Rev. A. Agnel Samy, H.G.N., administrator of Our Lady of Mercy in Putney, will become administrator of St. Charles Parish in Bellows Falls.

According to a news release, four international priests - three from the Philippines and one from Nigeria who were legally in the U.S. on religious worker visas - will be returning to their respective countries, as their visas will expire before any application for green card status can be completed.

Along with normal retirements and transfers, this means the diocese will be losing six active priests this July.

“The immigration complication was completely unexpected. The first stage of the green card process, which used to take three to four months to complete, now takes 17 to 18 months or longer,” said Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne.

Coyne said his staff “began the process for the green cards in what we understood to be a timely fashion, only to discover that we were at least a year too late for the priests to be able to stay. Even though these priests want to stay with their parishes here in Vermont, they must go home now so that they can return to Vermont in 12 months.”

In order to provide coverage for the other parishes in the Diocese, Coyne said a significant number of priests have been transferred to new assignments and duties.

“I've tried to do everything I can to make sure that as many parishes and churches will continue to have pastors to care for them, and I think we will be OK,” Coyne said. “I know it will be difficult for a while for those 'priest-less' parishes, but we will try and provide as much coverage as possible for Sunday Mass and the sacraments.”

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