As a boy, the Rev. Thomas Donio was "allergic to just about everything" on his family's farm in Hammonton, N.J.
"I couldn't get away fast enough" from all the peaches and tomatoes and strawberries, he recalled Friday.
Next month, however, Donio will plant roots of a different sort in the town of his youth.
On June 23, he becomes the first pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Hammonton, one of three parishes the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden will create that day out of eight existing parishes.
The changes, which Bishop Joseph Galante decreed Friday, are the latest in a massive parish consolidation Galante announced two years ago for the six-county diocese.
Friday's announcement brings that process nearly to its midway point. Since June 2009, Galante has issued 18 consolidation decrees; 20 remain.
"By doing this, we will help transform a world that so desperately needs to hear the Gospel and help people of all ages to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus," Galante said in a statement announcing the latest decrees.
Those also create the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit in Mullica Hill out of three existing parishes, and the Parish of St. John Neumann in North Cape May out of two parishes.
In Hammonton, St. Joseph's, St. Martin de Porres, and St. Anthony of Padua Parishes will merge next month to form the 3,000-family St. Mary of Mount Carmel, which will be centered at what is now St. Joseph's.
The town's first Catholic church, St. Joseph's was created in 1882. The two other parishes were spun off from it in the last century.
"We're coming full circle," said Donio, who was baptized at St. Joseph's 56 years ago.
The two other churches will continue to serve as worship sites, meaning they can be used for weddings and funerals and other occasional liturgies. Donio said he had not decided in which rectory he (and his three cats) would reside.
On June 23, the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit in Mullica Hill will likewise be formed out of what are now Holy Name of Jesus parish in that town, St. Ann's in Elmer, and St. Joseph's in Woodstown.
Holy Spirit, with 2,680 families, will be centered at the Holy Name campus and comprise the boundaries of all three parishes. St. Joseph's will continue as a worship site. Galante named the Rev. Anthony R. DiBardino as pastor for a six-year term.
Farther to the south, St. John of God parish in North Cape May and St. Raymond's in Villas will unite to form the 1,900-family St. John Neumann parish, based at what is now the St. John of God campus.
The new parish - which will keep St. Raymond's as a worship site - will comprise the boundaries of both former parishes. Galante named the Rev. Ernest R. Soprano pastor for a six-year term.
With the issuance of Friday's decrees, members of the parishes who object to their dissolution may petition the Vatican to overturn Galante's action. Andrew Walton, spokesman for the diocese, said he was not aware that any such action was contemplated among the eight parishes. He said the Vatican had sustained Galante's decisions against all appeals thus far.
Donio, who was ordained at 41 after careers as an artist and librarian, said he did not expect managing a 3,000-family parish to prove too difficult. "It's medium-large-size," he said.
Still, he said, "mergers have their challenges." One of his first orders of business is to create a space for the records - including the baptism, wedding, and burial documents - of all three parishes
His parochial vicar will be the Rev. Ronald Falotico, who also directs the diocese's Hispanic apostolate. The new parish includes a large number of families of Puerto Rican, Mexican, and other Latino backgrounds. Two additional priests will also assist at St. Mary's eight weekend Masses.
There have been "some tears" among those pained to see their parishes decommissioned, said Donio. "But I tell them to look on the bright side. We have three places now to celebrate the Eucharist."