Last Friday afternoon the priests of the Diocese were called to a meeting with Bishop Lawrence Brandt in which he shared with us a further restructuring of the diocesan parish family as part of our ongoing Strategic Plan. In a seven page letter, he detailed the recommendation of a committee that was established in 2012 that looked at the changing demographics of our four county diocese. This recommendation was discussed and unanimously approved on Thursday by the Presbyteral Council as well as the College of Consultors, and will take effect on June 25, 2013.
Citing declining numbers of parishioners in certain areas of the diocese as well as declining number of priests, fourteen parishes will be affected by the most recent changes. Two parishes will be closed entirely: Saint Hedwig in Smock (which last year celebrated its 100th anniversary, a partner parish with Saint John the Baptist in Perryopolis, will be closed ... as well as Saint Boniface on Chestnut Ridge, formerly staffed by the Benedictines and most recently partnered with Saint Raymond in Donegal, will also be closed.
Six parishes comprising the Western portion of Fayette County will be merged into one new parish named after Saint Francis of Assisi. Those parishes to be suppressed and merged are: All Saints in Masontown, Saint Mary in Leckrone, Saint Procopius in New Salem, Saint Thomas in Footedale, Holy Rosary in Republic and Madonna in Cardale. Two worship sites will serve the new parish - in Masontown and in Footedale. Each of these parishes have long histories of deep faith and great stewardship, and are a portion of Fayette County which has been a hotbed of priestly vocations over the years. The exciting part of these challenging times is the prospect of that deep faith coming together under the patronage of the Saint of Assisi, to build a new Church family. In Sunday's reading from Revelation, the vision given to John was of the new, heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God, strong and magnificent. But within that city was seen no temple or building for God, for God dwells in the hearts of his people. The buildings that will be grieved over in these changes are not the Church, but rather the presence of Christ in our lives lived in unity and Faith, Hope and Charity is where the Church is to be found.
Six additional parishes will be partnered (one priest serving two parishes): Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale and Saint Joseph in Everson; Saint Paul and Saint Bruno in Greensburg; and Our Lady of Grace in Greensburg and Saint Benedict in Marguerite.
In addition, three regional Catholic schools which are threatened either by enrollment or finances will be studied: All Saints in Masontown, Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale and the Cardinal Maida Academy in Vandergrift.
These announcements were made this weekend in all parishes, and I am sure that the surprise and shock that touches many lives will cause grief for some and for all of us a reason to pause and reflect. We are affected in this region be an aging population (the ratio of deaths to baptisms in the new Saint Francis parish stands at four deaths for every one baptism), a declining population because of economic conditions (except in a few growth areas), and aging and declining numbers of clergy (101 in 2000, 67 in 2013, 48 [projected] in 2018 and 27 [projected] by 2025). We are blessed with the service of five priests presently from the Philippines, and we rejoice to be ordaining three men on June 1st to priesthood. We have challenges facing us today and in the future. Please pray for the Church, universally and locally, for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for Bishop Brandt and our priests, and most especially for all of those affected by this restructuring. And continue to pray for vocations.