After nearly 40 years of serving the UCSB and Isla Vista community, the Roman Catholic priest order of the Paulist Fathers announced that a dwindling number of priests and lack of resources has caused it to pull its ministry from St. Mark’s Church in Isla Vista.

St. Mark’s, located on the corner of Picasso Road and Embarcadero Del Mar, will remain open, but will receive replacement priests from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, in which Santa Barbara County is included, by June 30, 2006. Although Rev. Joseph Scott, Rev. Paul Rospond and retired Rev. George Fitzgerald are scheduled to serve in their current capacities until June, at the latest. Parish organizers said they are trying to extend the Paulist priests’ stay for at least another year.

Scott said the Paulist Fathers had 269 priests in America when he joined in 1964. Now, it claims 153. Scott, the parish’s pastor, also said the average age of priests has risen from 45 years of age in the 1960s to today’s average of 65. Older members of the order cannot work and perform their traditional roles to the extent they once did.

“The number of priests we have has been dwindling, which is [part of a broader] concern of the Catholic Church right now,” Scott said. “We can no longer adequately staff the communities we serve.”

While the decline in priests has not caused the Roman Catholic Church to change its requirements for becoming a priest – such as being a man – Scott said more non-priests, known as the laity or lay people, have taken over roles traditionally held solely by priests.

Some of the roles lay people have taken on include administrative and financial tasks and counseling individuals through crises of faith, Scott said. However, he said the seven Catholic sacraments, such as confession, will remain the responsibility of ordained priests.

In 1966, the Paulist Fathers order began its ministry to UCSB and the surrounding community as part of a storefront operation where Javan’s is currently located, Scott said. After sharing space with UCSB Hillel and various I.V. churches in which to hold mass, the ministry and parish moved to its permanent building in 1968.

Last November, the Paulist order met in New Mexico to discuss what the group wished to focus on, Scott said. Along with their current missions, including reaching out to non-Catholic groups and bettering interfaith relations and campus ministry, Scott said the Paulists decided to devote significant resources to a new national office focusing on reconciliation or forgiveness.

Because of the limited number of priests, the order officially decided last Tuesday to pull priests and resources from St. Mark’s University Parish; St. Thomas Aquinas Parish near the University of Colorado at Boulder; St. Andrew’s Catholic Church near Clemson University, South Carolina; and the Church of St. Cyrils of Alexandria in Tuscon, Ariz. Priests and resources from these parishes will be sent to other parishes currently run by the Paulist Fathers.

Since the order’s debut in I.V., the Paulists have worked with students and the local community, including the Mexican immigrant population, Rospond said. Rospond, who holds the Spanish-speaking masses in St. Mark’s, said it will be difficult to replace the Paulists with priests who can perform both campus ministry and service the Hispanic community.

Although Rospond said he has requested a transfer to another campus ministry, he said he will miss his time in I.V.

“It’s great,” Rospond said. “I love the energy of I.V. It’s so intensely student.”

St. Mark’s Parish Pastoral Team (PPT) Liturgy Coordinator Karina Layugan said many parishioners, of whom there are roughly 900 who regularly attend services, cried when they heard the news of the Paulists leaving the church at Sunday’s masses.

“It’s really been shocking, first of all,” said Layugan, a second-year sociology major. “I actually had to be at church all day when it happened. … At the 10 a.m. mass, they chose to sing “We Shall Overcome.” People were really bummed.”

Layugan said she thinks the parishioners, who mostly consist of UCSB students, felt that losing the Paulists was like losing a father. One even went so far as to say the loss was worse than when their parents got divorced.

PPT Faith Development Coordinator Megan Skorupa said she and other parishioners were discussing the option of raising funds to keep the Paulists in I.V. for at least another year. Besides not wanting the priests to leave so suddenly, she said the church needs a longer transition period to prepare for new leadership.

Layugan and Skorupa said St. Mark’s is holding a meeting of its parish leaders Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss the transition from Paulists to new priests and she hopes the efforts of the parishioners and the decisions of church leaders will be for the best.

“I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason,” Layugan said. “I know it will be different. I know the Paulists have made a good foundation of leaders. … Whether for the better or worse, St. Mark’s will continue being a strong, close community.”