Parishioners seeking Vatican appeal of Monongahela church closing

April 29, 2014
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Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter
It will be up to the parish council in Monongahela to decide what to do with a bronze statue of St. Padre Pio that has stood outside St. Anthony’s Church since 2006. The Mon City church was closed Saturday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Order a Print
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Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter
This five-foot tall statue of St. Padre Pio stands outside St. Anthony Church. Sacred items inside the church have been removed by the diocese for safekeeping. Order a Print

Roman Catholic parishioners are seeking an attorney trained in canon law to make an appeal to the Vatican to reopen a Monongahela church, where an overnight vigil was held following the last Mass there Saturday.

Joe Ravasio, a leader of the opposition to the closing of St. Anthony’s Church, said his group is interviewing attorneys to prepare its case for Rome and he hopes the decision will be overturned based on the church having had a “strong membership.”

“You have to fight for worthy causes in this life,” said Ravasio, a retired Ringgold schoolteacher and coach from Monongahela.

The vigil ended under controversy after nearly 30 people inside the church at Park Avenue and Chess Street claimed they were denied food and water.

Some unflattering criticism also was directed during the vigil at Bishop David A. Zubik, leading him to say it was an embarrassment and a scandal, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“That’s not the way for which the church is to be used, to act out as they did,” Lengwin said Tuesday.

Ravasio said some of the statements were made by people who were not members of the church.

“I’m very sorry about the comments one of our parishioners made,” he said. “You never get anywhere by tearing someone down.”

Zubik announced the church closing in March, nearly three years after it was consolidated along with the Transfiguration worship site in Monongahela into the new St. Damien of Molokai parish.

He said both churches have dwindling memberships and collected $395,477 in the last fiscal year, a sum that wasn’t enough to cover the expenses for two churches, rectories and school buildings.

Ravasio said members of St. Anthony’s never were given a goal on how much they needed to raise to remain self-sufficient. He said the decision on the fate of the building fell to Zubik after the parish committees reached a tie vote on closing St. Anthony’s.

“There has never been any ill will between our committee and Transfiguration’s” he said.

Lengwin said sacred items have been removed from St. Anthony’s because it is “an empty building.” No decision has been reached on what to do with the building, including an ornate grotto containing a five-foot bronze statue of St. Padre Pio.

“We’re waiting on a final decision,” Lengwin said, adding the parish eventually will need to make a recommendation to Zubik on the fate of the building.

Ravasio said the Vatican appeal has a chance because it has reopened 42 churches in the last three years, including 11 in Cleveland and one just three months ago in Youngstown, Ohio.

“The closing should have never occurred,” he said.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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