TOLEDO -- 51 of the 157 parishes of the Diocese of Toledo will see some sort of change in a program outlined Sunday morning by Bishop Leonard Paul Blair. The diocese says 17 parishes will close, 12 parishes will merge to create 4 new parishes, and 11 new situations of "twinning" (2 parishes sharing one pastor) will be created.
In a news conference, Bishop Blair called this the most difficult thing he's had to do in his time in Toledo. "We have to address the fact that we presently have fewer priests to meet the sacramental needs of parish communities in a way that is faithful to our Catholic belief in the centrality of the Mass at the heart of parish life," said Blair.
Parishioners of the 19-county diocese were informed of the changes by means of a letter from the Bishop that was read at all weekend Masses. In the letter, Blair wrote, "In a number of cases the solution originally proposed for a given parish or group of parishes has been modified. Some parishes that had been recommended for closing will not be closed."
Blair encouraged Catholics across the diocese to give a warm welcome to those whose parishes are closing. The diocese will provide a form of grief counseling for parishioners of closed parishes as well as help in bringing a parish to closure in an orderly and dignified manner.
Of the 17 parishes closing, three churches will remain open as chapels, hosting weddings and events, but they will be overseen by another parish. There also won't be a priest permanently assigned to them. Bishop Blair said that there are other parishes that have volunteered to merge, especially in Sandusky and Bucyrus.
Blair also said the Diocese is looking at establishing a new parish in northwestern Wood County, and several other areas. Right now, those are just in the planning stages.
Many of the closings announced Sunday are expected to happen on or around July 1st.
The Diocese of Toledo was established as a diocese April 15, 1910. It serves 8,222 square miles in Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Van Wert, Fulton, Henry, Putnam, Allen, Lucas, Wood, Hancock, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, Wyandot, Crawford, Erie, Huron, and Richland counties. There are 322,938 Catholics in the Diocese.
213 diocesan priests serve the 159 parishes. The Diocese also supports 7 Catholic hospitals, 2 homes for the aged, and 14 special centers for social services.
Parishioners at St. Stanislaus, St. James and St. Frances de Sales in Toledo found out on Saturday that their parishes are among those that would be closing. Father Gerald Knueven read a letter from Bishop Leonard Blair instead of his usual homily. "With regard to St. Stanislaus, however," Knueven read, "The original recommendation stands. I regret the parish will be closed."
Lifelong members who watched St. Stanislaus parish membership slowly decline say they saw it coming. "I had this in my mind for the last five years that we knew we were going to close someday. And it is that we are closing," said Frank Urbaniak. Stella Barnum agreed, saying she will feel lost not worshiping in the old Kuschwantz Polish neighborhood where she grew up. St. Stanislaus stands as one of the last reminders of bygone days. "It's a shame," Barnum said, "It's been here all these years. It's a different world than when we were growing up."
For the leader who had to tell 25 parishioners their church will be no more? Father Knueven put it this way. "What can we say? How can we go about this. It doesn't feel very good."
No one feels good about losing the only church generations of families have ever known. "I just live a few block from St. Charles. That's where I will go," said Barnum. "I will survive. I'll try to do my best. Maybe I can find some place I can do the work I did here," said Urbaniak. "May the good Lord bless us, wherever we may go."
Updated by AEB
Sources: WTOL News 11 Staff Reports, www.toledodiocese.org