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The Bishop taketh away- and then giveth back - one confused Catholic's opinion

Mr. Pete grew up in a very active parish in the Diocese of Lansing, St. Agnes in Flint, MI. This is where he was baptized and confirmed and where several of his siblings were married.  He went to the elementary school there too.  In the bustling Vehicle City of the 1960s and 70s, St. Agnes was a neighborhood hub and  family life as well as much of the Catholic social life in the area was focused there.

But even as Mr. Pete and I were entering our high school years, the scene was changing.  Auto jobs were leaving Flint, urban renewal was sweeping the city and  and parishioners were leaving.  Within  a few decades St. Agnes was a shadow of its former self and despite some steadfast parishioners driving in from the suburbs every week to attend mass, the parish was closed in 2005 and exists no more. 

A similar sort of thing happened to St. Mary's in Akron. Urban renewal and population shifts cost St. Mary's its high school - which merged with another high school in 1973.  It's elementary school remains but serves students from 30 different zip codes and mostly non Catholic. Yet a devoted number of parishioners were willing to drive in to the city from the suburbs every Sunday to go to mass at St. Mary's.  So with declining memberships and parishioners who didn't even live in the parish boundaries, Bishop Lennon did the same thing his colleague in Michigan did - he closed it down.

As painful as that was for people, it seemed to make sense.  St. Mary's was combined with another struggling downtown parish - St. Bernard's, and the hard work of combining the two groups into a new entity began.

It affected my parish too as St. Mary's had a big Tridentine mass following.  That mass was allowed to continue at. St. Sebastian provided the worshipers became part of the parish and took part in parish life. There have been some growing pains in that regard too, but as time has gone on, people have settled in, relationships have been made, and the trauma of the closing had started to heal...

until the Vatican overturned the Bishop's decision to close St. Mary's and other parishes in the diocese. I blogged about that last month.  I opined:
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.
Which just goes to show what I know!   It turns out Bishop Lennon has just decided to let the parishes re-open!

I think it's brilliant!

  • It makes the people happy and lets them have their say about their beloved churches.
  • It keeps everyone out of the long limbo of an appeal and keeps folks from harboring unkind thoughts about the bishop and the diocese.
  • It also puts the onus and responsibility on the parishioners to keep their churches up and going. 
  • And if it doesn't work out, the Bishop can certainly say, "told ya so!"  
It's a total win for the Bishop and I think he was very wise.

On the other hand, I hope the people of St. Mary's will use sound judgement and wisdom before they  decide when and if they really want to re-open.  A lot of time and energy has gone into the mergers with the other parishes and many new friendships have been formed and memories have been made.  I hope they take that into account before just rushing ahead. If not, this might end up being a case of, "be careful what you pray for - because you might just get it!" 

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