Parishes prepare for interim and long-term restructuring

Uniontown Herald-Standard
By Mike Tony, Herald-Standard
Oct. 18, 2016

The parishes of southeastern Washington County are coming to a crossroads, but now their members know what their options are.

Parish consultations at St. Agnes Church in Richeyville on Saturday and Ave Maria Church in Bentleyville on Sunday allowed churchgoers to learn about an interim plan to restructure five Mon Valley parishes into one new parish to reduce operational costs caused by declining church participation and revenues.

Parish officials hope that interim plan will tide southeastern Washington County churches over until the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s major planning initiative, “On Mission for the Church Alive!,” a restructuring for which Bishop David Zubik is not likely to announce recommendations for implementation until early 2018.

The proposed interim plan would merge 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 with a new, as yet undetermined, name.

Under the interim, or ad hoc, recommendation, Ave Maria, St. Michael and St. Thomas Aquinas would continue to be used for regular worship, and the other three buildings would be used for more occasional worship, including weddings and funerals.

An ad hoc advisory planning team comprised of two representatives of each southeastern Washington parish found that offertory and total revenues have declined 10 percent in the past six years, with the five parishes being roughly “break even” in aggregate.

But it also found that maintenance needs for the parishes would total $1.8 million over the next five years and $2.9 million over the next 10, necessitating a restructuring that can’t wait for the “On Mission for the Church Alive!” implementation process to unfold.

“We’re responding to need for a change,” said Rev. Edward Yuhas, moderator of team ministry for Southeast Washington County. “Because change always brings more opportunity.”

According to the Diocese, Mass attendance across its six counties — Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington — declined nearly 40 percent from 2000 to 2015 due to population and other demographic changes, and Yuhas acknowledged that the Mon Valley has been impacted by those changes too.

“Nearly 50 percent of our parishes are operating in the red,” Yuhas said.

On Monday, Yuhas and the Rev. Paul Grunebach will consult with the five parishes’ pastoral and finance councils about the interim plan and submit documentation of the consultative process to Zubik by Nov. 7. Zubik will later make a final decision regarding the interim recommendation, although Yuhas said there is no set timetable for the bishop to do so.

The five parishes’ future beyond the interim recommendation also remains up in the air.

At St. Agnes and Ave Maria, parishioners gave feedback by responding to an electronic response system regarding which of three long-term parish models they would prefer.

The first parish model called for 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 into one parish with four campuses.

The second option, favored by the majority of respondents, is a two-parish model. The first parish would choose three campuses from among the following parishes: St. Ann, St. Hugh, St. Ignatius of Antioch, Our Lady of Consolation and St. Thomas. The second parish would choose three campuses from among the following parishes: St. Agnes, Ave Maria, St. Joseph, St. Oliver Plunkett and St. Thomas Aquinas.

The third option, another two-parish model, would include parishes currently in other districts that would choose. The first parish would be composed of six campuses chosen from among 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 as well as Washington’s St. Hilary and Immaculate Conception. The second parish would have four campuses chosen from among 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 Meadowlands and St. Patrick of Canonsburg.

Through Oct. 27, 22 more meetings will be held in parishes in Washington and Greene counties. Recommendations to Zubik will be made by the end of 2017, with recommendations for implementation to come early the following year.

Yuhas called the consultation and planning process “very inspiring for us” and hoped the changes to come would allow the parishes to focus more on evangelization.

“(Evangelization) helps people get excited about the Catholic Church,” Yuhas said. “And that’s what Christ desires.”