Three parishes in South Philadelphia and two parishes in Delaware County will begin the pastoral planning process in an effort to strengthen Catholic life in those areas, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday, Feb. 7.

Parishioners of Annunciation B.V.M., St. Nicholas of Tolentine and St. Rita of Cascia parishes in South Philadelphia as well as Sacred Heart Parish, Clifton Heights and St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Drexel Hill, learned the news at all weekend Masses.

As called for in the Parish Area Planning Initiative begun in 2010 in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, each of the parishes will engage in an in-depth study to determine if they have the resources to remain vibrant and sustainable faith communities.

Typically, the parishes are located nearby within a small geographic area. Such is the case with the South Philadelphia parishes under study. St. Nicholas is located only four-tenths of a mile, or seven blocks, from Annunciation, and St. Rita’s is only one mile farther north.

In Delaware County, eight-tenths of a mile’s drive separates St. Charles, on the southern end of Drexel Hill, from Sacred Heart, a Polish and territorial parish located across Baltimore Pike in Clifton Heights.

The pastor and three representatives of each parish will begin meeting soon for discussions with their counterparts from the other parishes of the group. Together they will submit a joint recommendation to the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee for parish growth and sustainability, which may be accepted after review of the Council of Priests and Archbishop Charles Chaput.

In some cases a number of parishes merge to form fewer parishes or one parish in the area, and the remaining parish assumes the assets and debts of the others. A recommendation could also call for a parish to remain free standing.

A third option for planners has arisen recently in the archdiocese. “Partnership” calls for parishes to retain their canonical designation (under church law) as a parish, but to share one pastor, one pastoral council and one parish staff. Partner parishes also retain their own finances and finance council.

The partnership model, recently introduced for a group of parishes in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section, helps the involved parishes “realize efficiencies in operation, to pool resources for more effective evangelization and to address the issue of decreasing priest personnel throughout the archdiocese,” according to a press release from the archdiocese.

The planning process for the parishes announced this week is expected to conclude with recommendations this spring, and to be implemented by the end of June this year.