Catholic parish merger options are discussed Falling numbers to spur changes

By Amanda Spadaro Eagle Staff Writer
Oct. 14

More than 70 Catholics gathered at the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church Thursday night to discuss plans for a parish merger under the guidance of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The 7 p.m. meeting addressed two plans that the diocese created to address declining enrollment and participation in the Catholic faith. Statistics presented by Michel Therrien, the president of the Institute for Pastoral Leadership and the director of evangelization with the diocese, showed that younger people are not involved in the faith.

According to information published by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Mass attendance has dropped 40 percent from 2000 to 2015. In addition to that, Catholic school enrollment has halved during the past 15 years, from kindergarten to eighth grade enrollment at about 23,700 in 2000 to 11,500 in 2015. There are now only 59 Catholic elementary schools in the six counties of the Pittsburgh diocese — Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington. In 2000, there were 102.

According to Therrien, only two out of every five children baptized in the Catholic Church actually are confirmed, a sacrament that takes place when the child turns 13 years old. Of those confirmed, 85 percent stop practicing by the time they are 21, Therrien said.

Because of this and the aging population of churchgoers, two draft models for parish merging in the Vicariate 4, District 3 were presented Thursday.

That district includes central Butler County and southern Lawrence County. In the district, there are eight church buildings across six parishes: St. Andrew in Center Township, St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen in Lyndora, St. Gregory in Evans City, St. Michael the Archangel in Butler, St. Paul in Butler and St. Peter in Butler.

The district currently has 25 weekend Masses with an average of 230 at each for a total of about 5,800 weekly Mass attendees.

That means that each of the 7.5 priests in the district is responsible for about 780 parishioners, according to district figures.

The district also has five deacons, 10 full time lay ecclesial ministers and 22 part-time ministers.

One proposed solution is Draft Model 38, which would merge the six parishes and three others from other districts into two parishes.

Parish A would be St. Andrew, St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Paul and St. Peter located across two campuses. In that parish, there would be one pastor, one parochial vicar, one priest chaplain, two deacons and five ministers for 46,000 total population and 3,700 estimated weekly Mass-goers.

Parish B would include three campuses for St. Gregory, St. Cecilia, Holy Family of New Brighton and Holy Redeemer, with the last three coming from other districts, Therrien said. This second parish would include one pastor, one parochial vicar, one priest chaplain, three deacons and five ministers for 70,000 total population and 3,100 Mass attendees.

The second model, Draft Model 39, would merge the six parishes into one, along with a seventh parish from another district.

This single parish would be across three campuses, composed of St. Andrew, St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, St. Gregory, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Paul, St. Peter and Holy Redeemer in Ellwood City.

The single-parish model would include one pastor, two parochial vicars, two priest chaplains, four deacons and seven ministers for 90,100 total population and 5,800 weekly Mass-goers, Therrien said.

An electronic poll taken by Therrien at the meeting showed that 47 percent of the people at the meeting agreed with the two-parish model, Draft Model 38, and another 36 percent were neutral toward it.

However, a poll for Draft Model 39, which would consolidate seven parishes into one, received 31 percent “disagree” votes and 27 percent neutral.

In a poll that compared the two, more than 80 percent said they would choose Draft Model 38.

Therrien stressed that the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is seeking plenty of feedback from parishioners, and packets specifically for feedback were passed out at the meeting.

In fact, consultations with the various parishes of the Greater Pittsburgh area for feedback on the draft models will continue through 2017, Therrien said, stressing that each model is called a “draft model.” Those drafts will be “re-evaluated based on input,” he said, stressing the importance of parishioner feedback during the process.

According to Therrien, no decisions on what models will be implemented will be made until the first quarter of 2018.

Information about the draft models can be found online after Oct. 19, at onmissionchurchalive.org.