One day after Bishop Richard Lennon, head of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, called for a mass reorganization that could force some of its 231 parishes to close or merge, clergy from across Lorain County have decided to embrace the plan as a sign of the times. Wednesday’s announcement that one-third of the 69 parish clusters have been directed to consider closing some facilities has only served to bolster what Father John Seabold has been telling his parishioners. Last year, when faced with little to no growth in both congregations while sharing one priest, Assumption Church on Elm Street and Immaculate Conception Church on Erie Street merged to create a new, combined church called Our Lady Queen of Peace. The Grafton church understands the diocese’s overall plan well.
“Now everyone knows this is something much bigger than just two parishes in Grafton,” Seabold said. “All the parishes are facing changes and challenges and are looking to what they can do next. Realizing we are all in the same boat makes it a lot easier.”
Lennon said the goal of his plan is to find a way to combine churches so that they are stronger than they would be operating individually. Does that mean some parishes will close?
“The answer is not a simple ‘yes’… it is a complex ‘yes,’ ” Lennon said, adding that there is no list saying which churches should close or how many need to. He’s put the clusters in charge of figuring out the futures of their churches.
“I have asked the parishes to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and in clustering with neighboring parishes, plan for the future in order to achieve a stronger, better and lasting presence of the Catholic Church in all of Northeast Ohio,” he said.
Father Bill Padavick of the Sacred Heart Church in Oberlin said he expects cities and suburbs likely will be hit harder by Lennon’s plan.
“We are the first and only Catholic Church in Oberlin and have the advantage of being in neither city not suburb,” he said. “We will share clergy and programming, but having a resident pastor is the hallmark of our church. I don’t think the diocese will take that away from us.”
The next closest church is Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary in South Amherst, followed by St. Patrick Church in Wellington, Padavick said.
But Seabold said such changes, regardless of how difficult, have worked well in Grafton. Both church buildings are in use, but the plans are to one day build a larger, unifying church.
“Bringing the two ministries together has worked out really well for us,” Seabold said. “We are able to do more together than separately to accomplish our mission.”
There are 231 parishes in the eight-county area of Northeast Ohio assigned to 69 different cluster units. The 34 churches in Lorain County account for nine of those cluster units.
In the next 12 months, the clusters teams — five members from each parish — will begin the process of determining what’s best in regards to merging and consolidating services as well as reconfiguring parish staffing.
When making the recommendations, Lennon wants each cluster team to evaluate factors such as parish population, active ministries, building conditions, financial viability and staffing.
Padavick’s optimism about the future of his church come with the acknowledgement that the church — like many others — has had difficulties.
The parish size of approximately 300 families has remained roughly the same over five years. But the monthly income has not been matching expenses, forcing the church to dip into their savings in order to pay the utility bills. As such, parishioners have been urged to give more, he said.
Such problems are one of the driving forces behind Lennon’s directive.
The reality is the demographic of Northeast Ohio is changing, finances are strapped across the board, and there are not as many priests.
“The plan definitely poses a real challenge for the future, but it’s the best way we can go forward,” said Father David Novak, priest at Holy Trinity Church in Lorain.
Many decades ago, the mission of the diocese and parishes was to tend to the many immigrant populations in the county and, to that effect, the mission was accomplished very well, said Bob Tayak, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
Dozens of churches with diverse congregations sprang up, and congregants in Lorain County numbered more than 217,000 in 1960 and increased by 31 percent by 2000, he said.
However, times have changed. While growth is expected, it’s not so massive as before, and it’s not in the same areas.
Tayak said the church’s population is projected to grow to 290,849 by 2010 and to 312,540 by 2030. But unlike decades ago, the largest concentration of growth likely will occur in Lorain County’s eastern suburbs in places like Avon, Avon Lake and North Ridgeville.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorain County cluster groups
Elyria cluster: St Agnes, Holy Cross, St. Jude, St. Mary and Sacred Heart
Lorain cluster: Ss. Cyril & Methodius, St. John the Baptist, Sacred Heart Chapel, St. Vitus, St. Vincent de Paul
Lorain cluster: Holy Trinity, St. Joseph, St. Ladislaus, St. Mary, Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Stanislaus
North Ridgeville cluster: St. Julie Billiart, St. Peter
Lorain/Sheffield/Sheffield Lake cluster: St. Anthony of Padua, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thomas the Apostle
Grafton/Columbia Station: Our Lady Queen of Peace, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Avon Lake cluster: Holy Spirit, St. Joseph, St. Raphael*
Avon cluster: Holy Trinity, St. Mary
Amherst/Oberlin/S. Amherst/Wellington cluster: St. Joseph, Sacred Heart, Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Patrick
Who’s growing, who’s not?
Church City parish size now five years ago
Holy Cross Elyria 125 families 212
Holy Spirit Avon Lake 1,281 1 ,259
Holy Trinity Lorain 385 450
Holy Trinity Avon 1,800 1,204
Nativity of the
Virgin Mary S. Amherst 350 310
Peace Grafton 900 900*
Sacred Heart Oberlin 300 300
& Methodius Lorain 100 100
of Padua Lorain 800 N/A
Ann Seton Columbia
Township 700 620 to 630
St. Joseph Amherst 2,100 2,106
St. Joseph Avon Lake 1,780 1,500
St. Julie BilliartN. Ridgeville 540 540
St. Ladislaus Lorain 150 150
St. Mary Avon 400 N/A
St. Patrick Wellington 630 600
St. Peter N. Ridgeville 1,700 1,300
St. Raphael Bay Village 3,100 N/A
St. Stanislaus Lorain 300 N/A
the Apostle Sheffield Lake 750 N/A
(Numbers provided by each individual church)