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Catholic Diocese of Youngstown looks at merging churches

February 26, 2010

LISBON - There would be fewer churches in Columbiana County under a proposed consolidation/restructuring plan being considered by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

The Diocese on Thursday released the proposed restructuring plan unveiled the day before at a series of meetings held in each of the six northeast Ohio counties (deaneries) that comprise the Diocese.

Under the proposed plan each parish would be designated as either a:

- Single unit, serving only one parish.

- Collaborative unit, consisting of two or more parishes served by one or more priests. These parishes would continue to retain their separate identities and church councils while operating independently but will share staff, resources and programming.

- Merged unit, consisting of two or more parishes to form a single consolidated new parish served by one church council, one finance committee and administrative staff. Only one church would remain open for worship services, with the parishes given the opportunity to decide for themselves which one it would be. If unable, the Diocese will decide for them.

None of the Catholic churches in the county would fall into the single-unit category under the proposed plan, but the following churches would be designated as collaborative units: St. Paul in Salem, St. Patrick in Leetonia, St. Jude in Columbiana and Our Lady of Lourdes in East Palestine.

The Rev. Thomas McCarthy of St. Paul is the acting dean for the county deanery. It is his understanding St. Paul and St. Patrick in Leetonia would become a collaborative unit, which they have been for the past four years. St. Jude and Our Lady of Lourdes would form a new collaborative unit.

The remainder of the Catholic churches in the county would be divided into two merger units:

- St. George in Lisbon, St. Agatha in West Point, St. John in Summitville, St. Philip Neri in Dungannon and St. Patrick in Salineville.

- St. Aloysius and St. Ann in East Liverpool and Immaculate Conception in Wellsville.

Out of these merger units would come one single church/worship site to serve each unit, McCarthy said.

Bishop George Murry is to make a decision on the plan by May 23, but objections or comment will be accepted until March 15.

The Diocese said changes must be made to accommodate the continuing decline in church membership and priests. The proposed plan would reduce the number of priests serving the county from the current eight to four.

"One of our most problematic trends among young adults is the decline in the perceived importance of being Catholic. Studies show that the salience of the Catholic identity has steadily waned ... Post Vatican II Catholics have a limited commitment to the institutional church and many live as self-defined Catholics without depending on the Church for the normative authority to do so," according to the news release issued by the Diocese.

The number of registered Catholics in the Diocese dropped from 256,017 in 2000 to 201,857 last year - a 22 percent decline -and fewer members means less money to operate.

There are 97 priests serving 112 parishes and two missions in the Diocese, and 36 priests would be eligible to retire in the next five years. As for possible replacements, there are currently 14 seminarians for priesthood in the Diocese.

According to the Diocese, there are 4,020 Catholic households in the county: St. Jude/Our Lady of Lourdes, 937; St. Paul/St. Patrick (Leetonia), 1,600; St. George, St. Agatha, St. John, St. Philip Neri and St. Patrick (Salineville), 398; and St. Aloysius, St. Ann and Immaculate Conception, 1,085.



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