Final part of Catholic church restructuring plan to be announced soon

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

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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

Sunday’s announcement is the result of more than two years of work

Catholics within the Cincinnati Archdiocese will learn Sunday about how their parish will change within the next several years when the final “Families of Parishes” plan is released.

The archdiocese released the “Families of Parishes” plan on Oct. 1, which is part of the church’s Beacons of Light initiative calling to revamp and revitalize the Catholic church in southwest Ohio. The change is due to problems that have occurred over the years, including a decline in church membership and a decline in overall priests. Church spokeswoman Jennifer Schack previously told the Journal-News that “staying where we are is not a possibility” and there is a “strong need” to restructure.

The “Families of Parishes” plan is the grouping of the archdiocese’s 208 parishes six deaneries ― there are currently 12 deaneries― and clustering parishes within each deanery into “families.” Families can range from a single parish to as many as six or seven. There are several changes to the draft “Families of Parishes” plan to the final plan set to be released online (BeaconsAOC.org) at noon Sunday. The final plan is set to be implemented in July 2022.

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“I am convinced that Beacons of Light, born in great hope, will enable us to form strong parishes, centered on the Eucharist, that radiate the love of Christ and joy of the Gospel,” said Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, who will promulgate the “Families of Parishes” plan at the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains.

The archbishop said the three-week open comment period held in October led to a stronger Families of Parishes configuration, and Schack said everyone involved in Beacons of Light is “immensely grateful” for the feedback “and it “played a very big role in shaping the final ‘Families of Parishes’ plan.”

Sunday’s announcement is the result of more than two years of work, Schack said, and organizers have compiled information from entities within the archdiocese, worked with a consulting firm, and had countless hours modeling the “Families of Parishes” map. It also included receiving and reviewing 7,800 comments provided by people after the draft was unveiled in October.

Shack wouldn’t say what changes were made ahead of the Dec. 5 release, but said, “There will be changes throughout the archdiocese, so it’s not one area that needed more consideration for improvement than others. But there were local considerations throughout the archdiocese that were adjusted.”

While the church is still focused on evangelization, Schack said the issues addressed in Beacons of Light won’t be solved by efforts to bring former and non-practicing Catholics back into the church.

One of the biggest issues driving Beacons of Light is the overall decline in priests (more young men are entering the priesthood but it takes time after graduating to learn to lead a parish as a pastor). But there are other issues spread throughout the 19-county archdiocese. It’s a stark reality that shows the church needs to do something to help it grow.

Other issues include:

  • The total population of the 19-county archdiocese 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 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass attendance declined by 22.5% between 2010 and 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Sacramental practice, including baptisms, first communions, confirmations and weddings, has declined by 19.4%.
  • More than a third of church facilities, on average, are utilized, according to the Archdiocese. A decade earlier, it was closer to half.

The “Families of Parishes” plan will also call for only one church in a “family” to be a parish, while others will be downgraded to a chapel or oratory, which means they won’t be open regularly for Sunday Mass.

There are 160 active priests serving parishes in the archdiocese. The plan calls for 60 “families,” with one pastor per family, with the remaining serving as vicars or associated pastors.

But Schnurr said those decisions, which church will remain a parish and which will be reduced, will be made by the respective “families.” Decisions on schools will also be made by the respective “families,” according to the Beacons of Light website.

“[S]chool leaders have been engaged in the planning process. Catholic elementary schools are a direct ministry of individual parishes or grouping of parishes and play a vital role in parish life. After the Families of Parishes are implemented in July 2022, the Catholic schools will be included in the pastoral planning within each Family,” according to the archdiocese.

The Cincinnati Archdiocese Catholic school system is the fifth largest in the country with more than 40,000 students in 110 schools.

Schack said there was “quite a bit of range” with the feedback, with people offering criticism and relaying concerns to people. There were also hundreds of recommendations on improvements to the map, and all were “thoroughly reviewed.”

But the most are classified as general questions regarding Beacons of Light.

“They wanted to let us know what they were thinking about Beacons of Light and that was totally valid, and all that information was kept as well,” Schack said. “That was helpful and appreciated.”

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