Parish Strategies Succeed

Even while many U.S. Bishops choose heartbreaking corporate models for downsizing parishes, other episcopal and lay leaders employ creative and successful strategies for keeping parishes open. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles and coalitions of parishioners in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York, are providing positive models for what concerned Catholics might do nationwide. Here are their stories:

Parish Helping Parish

For fifteen years, the archdiocese of Los Angeles has conducted an annual appeal asking all parishes to support the “Together in Mission” fund to subsidize financially disadvantaged parishes and schools. In 2007, the archdiocese collected more than $188 million dollars for this purpose. Diocesan leaders attribute the program’s success to “an amazing amount of lay involvement from the most comfortable to the most humble” and the "tremendous amount of cooperation and full support and education on the part of the pastors.” “Otherwise,” said annual appeal director Joseph Hindley, “the parishes and schools [receiving subsidies] would be in very serious financial problems. We’d be closing them or close to it.”

Hindley noted that the archdiocesan program “is the only annual appeal in the entire nation that is used exclusively and restricted exclusively for the use of subsidized parishes and schools,” and that administrative costs at 11 percent are among the lowest of nonprofit fundraising programs nationally. (The Tidings, January 18, 2008).

Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation Inc.

Parishioners of the Sacred Heart - St. John Parish in Wilkes-Barre PA developed a comprehensive ten-year plan to restore the church and school and pay off the existing debt owed to the diocese after learning of the deterioration of their church. Though the plan was supported by parishioners, the pastor and bishop did not believe any money should be raised to save the church. In October 2007, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the Scranton diocese, a core group of concerned parishioners established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, the Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation Inc.

According to the Foundation website, parishioners established the nonprofit after observing that funds were being “transferred from the parish to the diocese through excessive and unfair assessments, creating a bleak financial picture of the parish.” The Foundation pointed to an unusually high diocesan school subsidy assessment, so that of every dollar collected from the parish 62 cents went to the diocese and only 32 cents stayed in the parish.  By comparison, most parishes in the diocese kept 66 to 81cents of every dollar collected. 

In February 2008, after the parishioner-run Foundation contacted the media and developed a website presenting their plight, diocesan officials finally met with them in a meeting described as “productive” and “a first step in resolving the many issues that have been raised.”  (For more info visit www.shwbfoundation.com).

Historic Landmark Designation

After learning of Bishop Edward Kmiec’s plan to close Holy Trinity and Sacred Heart parishes in Niagara Falls,  parish leaders sought historic landmark designation to protect the buildings from being altered or demolished. In February, the historic designation was granted to Holy Trinity, to the relief of Steve Dojka whose great-grandfather was among the 21 original founders of the parish. In a January interview with the Niagara Gazette, Dojka said parishioners were hoping to continue worshiping in the church and bring in nonprofit organizations to utilize other parish buildings.

The Sacred Heart Parish application for historic landmark status is pending.  Thomas Yots, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission in Niagara Falls, said parishioners from two other Catholic churches slated to close have also inquired about landmark status for the churches they have attended.

The Buffalo diocese is in the midst of downsizing its 275 parishes to 204 with more possible closures to come. According to reports, the main reasons are the priest shortage and financial issues.

 

Focus on FutureChurch

Spring 2008

 

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