Twenty-nine parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will merge into 13 effective July 1, the archdiocese announced Sunday, June 1 after Archbishop Charles Chaput made decisions on the parishes upon reviewing recommendations of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee.
Another 17 parishes were involved in the pastoral planning process since last September but will remain free-standing parishes at this time.
Members of all the affected parishes learned the news during weekend Masses.
Coinciding with the announcement, the archdiocese revealed the list of changes in clergy assignments throughout the archdiocese. They include priests retiring from active ministry, new pastors for many parishes and dozens of other assignment changes. See the full list here.
The mergers stem from the review of a number of factors including geographic shifts in Catholic population, a high density of parishes in a small area, as well as declines in Mass attendance, sacramental activity, the availability of priests to staff parishes and the condition of parish buildings.
In all the mergers, the churches of closing parishes will become worship sites in which weddings, funerals, feast days and ethnic devotions, plus regular Sunday Mass, may be celebrated at the discretion of the pastors and pastoral councils of the new parish.
Several geographic areas that for many years had supported several parishes in a town or a section of Philadelphia had come under scrutiny as they watched parish populations decline while still requiring the same number of pastors, one for each parish. (Below, see links to more Parish Planning Area information including parish demographic and sacramental data.)
Two such areas exist just across the Schuylkill River from one another in central Montgomery County.
Conshohocken’s parishes of St. Matthew, St. Mary (a Polish personal parish), SS. Cosmas and Damian (Italian) — all within several blocks of one another — and West Conshohocken’s St. Gertrude Parish will all merge at St. Matthew and form a new parish expected to have more than 8,000 parishioners and about 2,000 people attending Mass.
By Mass attendance, the 1,086 regular weekend Mass attendees of St. Matthew’s make it larger than the other three parishes combined. St Matthew’s also celebrates about three times as many marriages and baptisms as the others, whose three churches will become worship sites.
A few miles away three parishes — St. Augustine and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Bridgeport — will merge at Sacred Heart in Swedesburg. Although a Polish parish, the new Sacred Heart will become a territorial parish.
At one time Bridgeport had supported three parishes; Our Mother of Sorrows (Slovak) closed in 2001. But the distances from Catholic churches in the town are not great: both St. Augustine and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which will become worship sites, are less than half a mile from Swedesburg.
And Mother of Divine Providence Parish in nearby King of Prussia will remain a free-standing parish, as will St. David in Willow Grove and St. Luke the Evangelist in Glenside.
In the eastern Montgomery County area near the latter two parishes, St. John of the Cross in Roslyn will become a worship site as it merges with Queen of Peace at its location in Ardsley. Both parishes’ churches are about a mile and a half apart.
Both have seen slight declines in Mass attendance over the past five years, with Queen of Peace holding at 890 per weekend and St. John at 685. The new parish is expected to have 8,600 registered parishioners.
In South Philadelphia, eight parishes had been under study, four of which will consolidate. St. Monica and St. Edmond will merge at St. Monica, which is far larger in population than St. Edmond. The latter saw average weekend Mass attendance of only 259 people in 2012, compared to St. Monica’s 2,027.
As a result of the consolidation the new parish will have 9,100 registered parishioners. St. Edmond Church, located a mile from St. Monica’s, will become a worship site of the new parish.
St. Richard and Holy Spirit parishes, the churches of which are also within a mile of each other in South Philadelphia, will merge at St. Richard, which saw 656 people attend Mass on a weekend.
Even though Mass attendance at Holy Spirit has risen from 525 in 2008 to 681 in 2012, the church will now become a worship site of the new parish, which will have a combined 6,375 registered parishioners.
Three parishes in South Philadelphia will remain unaffected: St. Charles Borromeo, which will be a locus of the Neocatechumenal Way; St. Gabriel; St. Rita of Cascia and its popular shrine to its patron saint on Broad Street; and multi-ethnic St. Thomas of Aquinas.
Ten parishes in four communities of lower Bucks County will merge, with another three unaffected at this time: Our Lady of Grace in Penndel, St. Michael the Archangel in Levittown and St. Ephrem in Bensalem.
Four parishes call the latter community home. St. Charles Borromeo and Our Lady of Fatima will merge at St. Charles, the larger parish by Mass attendance (1,022 to Our Lady of Fatima’s 821) of the two. After merging, more than 6,800 registered parishioners and 1,900 worshipers for Mass are expected for the new parish.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bensalem will merge with St. Thomas Aquinas at its location in nearby Croydon, only little more than a mile apart. The new parish, with St. Elizabeth as a worship site, is expected to have 5,700 registered parishioners.
St. Joseph the Worker in Fallsington will merge with St. Frances Cabrini at its location three miles away in Fairless Hills. St. Joseph will become a worship site of the new St. Frances parish, which will become a large parish of more than 7,700 parishioners serving the area.
Two parishes in Bristol are located only a half-mile from each other, and after St. Ann merges with St. Mark at the latter’s location, the new parish will have an expected 5,500 parishioners, 1,300 regular Mass goers and St. Ann as a worship site.
In Levittown, besides St. Michael Parish, a new parish resulting from the merger of Immaculate Conception at Queen of the Universe is expected to boast more than 10,000 parishioners and 2,200 people at weekend Masses. Immaculate Conception, located three miles from Queen of the Universe, will become a worship site.
Two regions of Delaware County also engaged in pastoral planning, with the final decisions resulting in six merging parishes.
In the eastern region Holy Spirit will become a worship site and merge with St. George in Glenolden, only 1.3 miles distant. The new parish of St. George will have about 4,000 registered parishioners.
In the same area three other parishes are unaffected at this time: Sacred Heart in Clifton Heights, St. Eugene in Primos and St. Joseph in Collingdale.
Western Delaware County will see St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Essington, with 294 worshipers at weekend Masses, becoming a worship site and merging with St. Gabriel Parish two miles away in Norwood.
Notre Dame Parish in Swarthmore saw 753 people attend Mass in 2012, a higher attendance than the 556 of Our Lady of Peace in Milmont Park. Nonetheless the two will merge at 1.4 miles-distant Our Lady of Peace, with Notre Dame becoming a worship site. The new parish will boast 7,300 parishioners, compared to the new St. Gabriel Parish which will have 7,500.
At this time four parishes in western Delaware County will remain free standing: Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Morton; Our Lady of Fatima, Secane; St. Rose of Lima, Eddystone; and St. Madeline, Ridley Park.
The current process of area pastoral planning began in September 2010 as all parishioners in the archdiocese learned of the intention to perform an in-depth review of every parish within a few years. The goal was to determine of parishes within a given area “possessed the necessary resources to remain vibrant and sustainable faith communities,” according to the archdiocesan statement June 1.
Pastors, parish leaders, the regional bishop and regional dean met to voice concerns and share recommendations Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee, which months later were brought before the archdiocesan Council of Priests and the College of Consultors. Archbishop Chaput made the final decisions based on consultation with all the parties.
In the affected parishes all property, assets and debts of the former parish will be assumed by the newly formed parish, which will also be responsible for all sacramental records. The pastors from the merging parishes will form a transitional team made up of lay leaders from each of the merging parishes to assist in forming the new parish community. The archdiocese pledged to provide ongoing support during the transition process.
In the four years since the planning process began 47 parishes have merged with a nearby parish. After July 1 the current total will be 219 parishes, down from 266 in 2010, in the five-county archdiocese.