Archdiocese releases draft of plan to reorganize parishes in southwest Ohio

St. Julie Billiart Church in Hamilton will be grouped in the Family of Parishes that includes St. Peter in Chains, Queen of Peace, St. Joseph and St. Aloysius. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Caption
St. Julie Billiart Church in Hamilton will be grouped in the Family of Parishes that includes St. Peter in Chains, Queen of Peace, St. Joseph and St. Aloysius. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has released its proposed plan to revamp and revitalize the Catholic church in southwest Ohio because of a decline in membership and priests.

According to the archdiocese, church buildings “are grossly underutilized.” There are more than 440,000 Catholics in the archdiocese that spans 19 counties in southwest Ohio. Just more than a third of Catholic facilities are used, as of 2019, compared to nearly half used in 2010.

While there has been a surge in young men entering the priesthood in recent years, one of the main problems that prompted the plan is the overall decline in priests, though it’s not the only reason, said archdiocese spokesperson Jennifer Schack.

“We’ve gotten to the place where the projection is that staying where we are is not a possibility,” she said. “There will need to be a restructuring, there will need to be an arrangement for a hopeful future.”

The plan is a dramatic change from past practices. The church said in a statement that “the status quo is no longer an option,” and church leaders believe this plan will “garner stability and position the diocese for growth.”

The plan, called Beacon of Light, is available for public review and comments until Oct. 20, and it began more than a year ago with archdioceses officials and Minnasota-based Consultant Partners Edge, LLC.

This is a draft of a reorganization of Archdiocese of Cincinnati parishes.
Caption
This is a draft of a reorganization of Archdiocese of Cincinnati parishes.

The plan

The 208 parishes in the archdiocese will be grouped into “Families of Parishes,” and a “family” could range from one to six or seven parishes.

These “families” will be grouped into deaneries. Today, there are 12 archdiocese deaneries, but Beacon of Light calls for just six. All but one of Butler County’s parishes will be in the Central Deanery, where there are eight “families.” The Central Denary also includes Preble and Warren counties.

St. John the Evangelist in West Chester Twp., however, will be grouped with St. Michael in Sharonville in a two-parish “family” in the South Deanery, which has 19 “families.”

The Beacon of Light plan won’t take effect until July 1, 2022. The final reorganization announcement is expected by late November. But local changes, like Mass schedules, merging of Catholic schools, closing churches, or reducing a church’s status, would be made by the “families,” not the archdiocese, according to Archbishop Daniel Schnurr.

Those wanting to comment on the plan can do so today at BeaconsAOC.org, or mail comments to Beacons of Light, c/o Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 100 E. Eighth St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.

St. Julie Billiart Church in Hamilton will be grouped in the Family of Parishes that includes St. Peter in Chains, Queen of Peace, St. Joseph and St. Aloysius. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Caption
St. Julie Billiart Church in Hamilton will be grouped in the Family of Parishes that includes St. Peter in Chains, Queen of Peace, St. Joseph and St. Aloysius. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

‘Stretched to the limit’

There were more than 400 active diocesan priests in 1970 serving nearly 260 parishes. However, today, there are about 160 active priests serving 208 parishes.

Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis Schnurr said priests are doing more now than they had 50-plus years ago.

“If this continues, it is already impacting the health and well-being of our priests, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, physically,” the archbishop said in a 20-minute video on the archdiocese’s website.

The archdiocese said in a statement “our priests are stretched to the limit and we will have fewer priests who can serve as pastors over the coming years.”

Combined with the decline of Catholics in the region (about a 16% drop since 1970), the change outlined in the Beacon of Light seemed inevitable.

“The sheer infrastructure of the Archdiocese ― in terms of the campus and the property and the churches, the entities that need to be managed ― and then the actual attendance of people at church mass taking part in sacramental life at the church, those two don’t match each other right now,” Schack said.

It’s projected that the number of available archdiocesan priests available for assignment to decline by 20% over the next five years.

Fr. John Civille stands outside Holy Trinity Church Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021on Clark Street in Middletown where he has been a pastor for nearly 30 years as part of the Holy Family Parish. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Fr. John Civille stands outside Holy Trinity Church Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021on Clark Street in Middletown where he has been a pastor for nearly 30 years as part of the Holy Family Parish. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Impacts

Locally, the total population of the 19-county archdiocese area grew between 2010 and 2020 by 3.1%, and it’s projected by 2025 to grow another 1.3%. However, registered Catholic households have declined by 6% over that same timeframe.

The decline was felt prior to the onsite of the COVID-19 pandemic, as from 2010 to 2019, mass attendance declined by 22.5%, and sacramental practice, including baptisms, first communions, confirmations and weddings have declined by 19.4%. And more than a third of church facilities, on average, are utilized, according to the Archdiocese.

One of the long-lasting impacts of the plan is a “family” of parishes may determine it may not need all of its churches.

“There may be the decision to reduce a parish church to the status of an oratory or a chapel,” Schnurr said. “But that is going to be decided by the family of parishes. It’s not going to be decided by me ... or the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.”

If a parish building is reduced to being a “chapel” or “oratory,” that means they would not regularly open for Sunday Mass.

As parishes could be reduced either by status or closure, schools could be impacted, though those decisions will also be made by each “family” of parishes.

“The future of each Catholic school will be determined within each Family of Parishes after implementation of the Families in July of 2022,” Schack said.