BENTLEYVILLE – Several possibilities were presented to those who attended Sunday’s parish consultation session at Ave Maria Church, including an interim plan officials said is necessary to alleviate pastoral, administrative and financial concerns.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is working on a major restructuring, “On Mission for the Church Alive!” in response to declining Catholic populations and Mass and sacramental participation, including confirmations and marriages.
Since 2000, Catholic population in the diocese is down 16 percent. Mass attendance, baptisms and church marriages are down from 40 to 50 percent. In addition, the number of active diocesan priests decreased from 338 in 2000 to 225 in 2015, with that number expected to fall to 112 in 2025.
About half of parishes now operate with financial deficits.
Before the parishes of southeastern Washington County feel the effects of that long-term plan, they could undergo an interim change involving the merger of Ave Maria, St. Agnes of Richeyville, St. Joseph of Roscoe, St. Oliver Plunkett Parish of Fredericktown and Marianna, and St. Thomas Aquinas of California into one parish. St. Oliver Plunkett Parish was created in 1994 by the merger of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Fredericktown and Sts. Mary and Ann Church in Marianna.
The temporary plan calls for Ave Maria, St. Michael and St. Thomas Aquinas to continue to be used for regular worship and the other three buildings be used for occasional worship, such as funerals and weddings. The Rev. Edward Yuhas said using the buildings this way would reduce operating costs by one-third.
A facilities analysis revealed the six churches and other buildings of the five parishes, including rectories and social halls, would require more than $2.9 million over the next 10 years to maintain.
The priests of the five parishes, Yuhas and the Rev. Paul Grunebach, will present the interim plan to Bishop David Zubik by Nov. 7.
An implementation date has not been decided, said Bob De Witt, diocese spokesman.
Yuhas said the merger would provide for better pastoral care and would shift financial focus from buildings to the church’s mission of welcoming those who have left the church or who don’t feel close to God.
“This is an evangelical opportunity for southeast Washington (County),” said Yuhas. “It’s an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Christ and deepen our relationship with fellow parishioners.”
In addition to information on the interim plan, the crowd of about 85 received handouts and a video presentation of preliminary models for possible mergers of the “On Mission” plan. Three plans were presented and participants gave feedback by responding via an electronic voting system.
The first parish model included the merger of Ave Maria, St. Agnes, St. Joseph, St. Oliver Plunkett, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ann of Waynesburg, St. Hugh of Carmichaels, St. Ignatius of Antioch of Bobtown, Our Lady of Consolation of Nemacolin and St. Thomas of Clarksville merging into one parish with four campuses.
The second presentation was a two-parish model. The first parish would include St. Ann, St. Hugh, St. Ignatius of Antioch, Our Lady of Consolation and St. Thomas. The second parish would include St. Agnes, Ave Maria, St. Joseph, St. Oliver Plunkett and St. Thomas Aquinas. Each parish would use three campuses. Eighty-two percent of respondents preferred this model.
The third option included two parishes, with parishes from other districts included. The first parish would be composed of six campuses and include St. Agnes, St. Ann, Ave Maria, St. Hugh, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Joseph, St. Oliver Plunkett, Our Lady of Consolation, St. Thomas, St. Thomas Aquinas and Washington’s St. Hilary and Immaculate Conception. The second parish would have four campuses and include St. Alphonsus of McDonald, St. Ann of Bulger, Holy Rosary of Muse, St. Mary of Cecil, St. Michael of Avella, Our Lady of Lourdes of Burgettstown, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal of Meadow Lands and St. Patrick of Canonsburg.
“No decisions have been made,” said Jane Sarra, diocese meeting facilitator. “It’s an exciting time in the Diocese of Pittsburgh to get actively involved.”
Through Oct. 27, 22 more meetings will be held in the parishes of Washington and Greene counties. After meetings conclude, parish teams will refine plans and report them to the diocese. Recommendations to Zubik will be made by the end of 2017, and final decisions on consolidations will be made in spring 2018, with implementation in fall 2018.