By Gina Christian
(OSV News) — The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, announced May 25 it will close a number of parishes following what it called “an extensive three-year evaluation process.”
Fifteen parishes will be suppressed and consolidated as part of the diocese’s “Real Presence, Real Future” (RPRF) initiative.
Launched under former Columbus Bishop Robert J. Brennan (who in November 2021 was installed as the bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York), RPRF has sought to address concerns over parish viability amid dwindling numbers of clergy available to serve fewer parishioners in the expansive diocese.
In remarks to The Catholic Times, the diocese’s online newspaper, Columbus Bishop Earl K. Fernandes said he “saw how much pressure the priests were under to try to provide for multiple (diocesan) parishes, even as many of (the) clergy continued to age,” adding that “sometimes, the structures have to be modified in order to be able to evangelize better.”
“Real Presence Real Future, we have said over and over again, it’s about the mission of evangelization,” Bishop Fernandes added. “I think through these changes we will have parishes that are not just maintaining what they have but are actually evangelizing, making new disciples, new followers, so that Catholicism is not seen merely as a religion but as a whole way of life.”
Slated to close in the city of Columbus are St. Anthony of Padua, Corpus Christi, Holy Rosary/St. John, Parroquia Santa Cruz, St. Ladislas, St. Matthias, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and St. Philip the Apostle.
Also closing will be St. Bernard Church in Corning, the Church of Atonement in Crooksville, St. Francis de Sales in Newcomerstown, St. Mark Church in Lancaster, St. Mary Church in Groveport, St. Mary Church in Bremen and SS. Peter and Paul Church in Glenmont.
St. Anthony of Padua School in Columbus Grove and SS. Peter and Paul School in Wellston also will close.
Priests from religious orders have enabled the diocese to offset some of the clerical shortage in the diocese. Capuchin Franciscans are expected to arrive over the summer at Christ the King and St. Thomas the Apostle in Columbus, which will remain open under the Capuchins’ administration through a merger.
Noting that he was “really sympathetic to the rural areas” of the diocese, Bishop Fernandes said in the diocesan newspaper that he had “gone out to the different parishes and … seen with my own eyes which might be necessary.” As a result, he elected to keep St. Ann in Dresden and St. Mary in Mattingly Settlement open with a pastor in residence. St. Nicholas and St. Thomas Aquinas, both in Zanesville, also will remain open under a single pastor.
Putting the RPRF plan into action is “not going to happen overnight,” Bishop Fernandes told The Catholic Times. “The expectation would be that priests would work with the people in trying to implement a pastoral plan for that particular parish, for evangelization, for catechesis, for education of our young people, for sacramental care of the people in those parishes. That implementation will take a period of time.”