Friday, March 16, 2012

The Vatican and the Bishop - and how it could affect my parish

Big news in my diocese last week. In 2009 and 2010, Bishop Lennon set about closing 50 Catholic Churches in the diocese. The main reasons for this was changing demographics (Catholics moving from the inner city into the suburbs) and the finances of keeping these smaller churches open. So the Bishop gave notice and closed them down and not unexpectedly there was a lot of sorrow and anger from some of the people for these changes. In my town, one of the churches to be closed was St. Mary's.

St. Mary's was rather unique. A lot of my homeschooling friends went there because the church was very devout and orthodox and solid in Catholic teaching and practice. They also had the Latin Mass there every Sunday as well as an Opus Dei priest to hear confessions and some special nights of recollection for women and teens. The trouble was that most of my friends did not live within the actual parish boundaries of St. Mary's and the large majority of them traveled 20 to 30 minutes or more to be able to attend church there.

St. Mary's

The former pastor at St. Mary's said of his parishoners:''I've never seen people who take their faith as seriously as these here at St. Mary's in my 35 years as a priest.''


I'd have to say I agree with him.  The people that I know that gravitated towards St. Mary's are very devout and holy Catholics, serious about their faith.  You can read more about the history of St. Mary's and its closing here. 

Here's a short excerpt just to save it for when the article is removed. It's a really rich history:


The parish, with a basilica-style Tuscan Romanesque Revival church at its center, was established in 1887 as a mission of St. Vincent parish for Catholics living in Akron's south end. In June of that same year, parishioners and skilled laborers who donated their time began digging the foundation of a two-story brick structure.
The upper portion was used as a temporary chapel and the lower level was divided into three classrooms. Classes began in the grade school under the direction of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Cleveland in October and the first Mass was celebrated in the church on Nov. 27, 1887. Eight years later, the Sisters of St. Joseph from Ebensburg, Pa. took charge of the school and the temporary chapel was replaced by a frame church.
On Dec. 12, 1896, St. Mary's was elevated to parish status. As the population increased in Akron, so did the number of parishioners at St. Mary's.
The congregation began work on a new church at the corner of Coburn and Thornton streets in October 1914. The parish also built a rectory, convent and school, which opened in January 1917.
The new church, which is the existing building, was dedicated in October 1916. It was designed by Boston architect Edward T.P. Graham, who used the cathedral church in Ostia, Italy, as a model. Graham also designed the school.
On Ascension Thursday in 1928, lightning hit the building's tower, causing falling debris to damage the roof. A year later, disaster struck again when defective wiring in the organ loft started a fire. But neither the tragedies nor the worsening Depression stopped the congregation from making regular payments on its mortgage.
In 1944, 16 stained-glass windows representing the 15 mysteries of the rosary and the Immaculate Conception of Mary were installed in the church. Two years later, the interior received another face-lift with a painting of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven on the dome over the main altar.
Church records show that the first baptism took place on Jan. 10, 1897, when Thomas Hanifin received the sacrament. Hanifin went on to become one of the 33 men from the church ordained to the priesthood over the years. He was ordained in 1923. In addition to the men in the priesthood, St. Mary's has had 101 men and women dedicated to religious orders. Currently 11 people from the parish are studying to be priests or nuns.
The first marriage at the church was on Jan. 20, 1897, when Edward Jeffers and Elsie Crumwell exchanged vows. The couple were married for 67 years and had six children.


St. Mary's closed in 2010 and officially merged with another downtown parish, St. Bernard's.  However, the Latin mass moved to my parish and the worshipers were welcome to attend and were encouraged to become parishioners.  I can't say there haven't been some growing pains trying to meet every one's needs, but overall from my perspective, it has been a blessing. I have met several wonderful families with kids the same age as mine.  Noah has made friends with one of the boys that attends his PSR class, and Rosie made friends with children in another family - they even saw each other at a free concert at the church a few weeks ago - friendships have been made and memories made.  The musicians from the Latin mass joined us for Lessons and Carols.   The parish has also provided an influx of boys who were eager to learn and to serve at the Latin mass.  I think we were officially over the rough patch and headed towards a smooth blending in the parish.

Until last week...

Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon said Wednesday he has received documents from the Vatican concerning his orders to close 13 parishes.


“As indicated in my previous statement, I promised to inform you when I had received from the Vatican Congregation for Clergy decrees associated with parish appeals. The decrees arrived on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. The process to review these rulings will now be undertaken with my advisors,” Lennon said in a prepared statement.


The documents arrived a week after Peter Borre, a Boston activist who has fought the closing of churches in the Cleveland diocese, told the Associated Press the Congregation of the Clergy had ruled Lennon did not follow proper procedures in the closings of 13 parishes that appealed their suppressions and the closing of their churches.


Since then, Borre and other critics of the closings have called for the bishop to move quickly in restoring the 13 affected parishes. They contend that, although Lennon has 60 days from the receipt of the Vatican documents to appeal, the congregations cannot be denied access to their church buildings.


The 13 parishes, which include St. Mary's and St. John the Baptist in Akron, were among 50 closed or merged between August 2009 and June 2010 as part of a diocesan-wide restructuring plan to address dwindling attendance and finances and a worsening priest shortage.

And now we enter limbo, which may not be an official theological state of being in the afterlife, but sure seems to encompass what we can expect in the next few months.

The bishop is already getting pressure to re-open the closed churches, but that might be easier said than done.  I know St. Mary's had some repairs that needed to be made to its structure and probably some of the other buildings have maintenance issues as well.  There's also the little problem that some of them have been altered, statuary moved, and other sacred items sold or given away.

It might be that the bishop will make an appeal of his own to Rome, or he could just reopen everything, or (and probably more likely in my opinion) he'll just say there aren't the resources to do so - which is why they were closed in the first place.

As a lowly parishioner in the pew, I'm kind of sorry to see this all happening.  I'm afraid that the newer people won't continue to mix and blend because they might be getting ready to lift stakes and go back!  Will new friendships be lost?  So for a time, instead of a big happy parish family we will be like more like  the foster family hoping thinking the adoption of our foster kids was a done deal, only to get  the news that we might not get that final adoption decree after all.






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1 comment:

Moonshadow said...

I just wonder why Bishop Lennon did not follow proper procedure, if he really wanted these parishes closed.

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