Three Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will be closed after the official announcement Dec. 2 that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has approved their relegation, or change in canonical status.
The worship sites, which included churches and other buildings of parishes that closed years ago following mergers, are located in Philadelphia and Chester County.
The three churches are Our Lady of the Holy Souls in North Philadelphia, which merged into Our Lady of Hope Parish at the former Holy Child Church site in 1993; St. Stanislaus Kostka in Coatesville, which merged into St. Joseph Parish in Coatesville in 2012 and St. Leo the Great Parish in the Tacony section of Philadelphia, which merged into nearby Our Lady of Consolation Parish in 2013.
The formal request to close the parish worship sites originated from the pastors of the three parishes together with their parish pastoral and finance councils, according to the archdiocesan news release. The requests were then reviewed by the Archdiocesan Council of Priests and then presented to Archbishop Chaput who, after a careful review of all supporting factors, made the final decision.
In the language of canon or church law, the churches are “relegated to profane but not sordid use.” In this sense “profane” simply means not ecclesiastical use, and sordid speaks for itself. The archdiocese does not object to them being converted into worship sites of other faith communities or housing, but certainly not into night clubs.
As in the case of all parish mergers, the surviving parish receives the assets, including property of the closed parish or parishes. It is also responsible for any debts of the closed parish, for example loans from the archdiocese or back payments of diocesan assessments.
Very often when a parish is closed, a limited Mass schedule is maintained for a time at the closed church, if practical. Funerals and in some cases baptisms may also be celebrated until such time as upkeep costs are not a burden. In many cases these upkeep costs are offset by the sale of the other assets of the closed parish.
The surviving parish may also bring some of the furnishings or artifacts such as statuary into the surviving church, and it receives the proceeds from any items that are sold. Beautiful stained-glass windows from Philadelphia have found a new home in many churches around the country.
Our Lady of Hope Parish has striven to keep the Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church building in good repair, but it is itself a poor parish with a debt of about $460,000, according to the archdiocesan release. It was assisted in this by rental of its school to Cristo Rey High School, but that $290,000 rental is scheduled to end at the end of the school year when Cristo Rey moves to a new location.
At this time anticipated necessary repairs for Our Lady of the Holy Souls is approximately $160,000, which Our Lady of Hope does not have.
More often than not, in cases where a closed parish church remains as a worship site, it is upkeep that causes the ultimate closure.
St. Stanislaus Kostka, a former Polish national parish, had $26,010 in maintenance costs for the parish buildings in fiscal year 2016-2017. More recently $6,240 in plumbing bills was added and an estimated $30,000 would be needed for boiler replacement.
St. Joseph Parish itself had a fiscal year deficit of $42,000. It is hoped a future sale of the St. Stanislaus property will put St. Joseph Parish on firmer financial footing.
When St. Leo Parish merged with Our Lady of Consolation, an Italian personal parish, the newly formed Our Lady of Consolation became a territorial parish with St. Leo’s former boundaries. Although Our Lady of Consolation benefited from the proceeds of the sale of St. Leo School and ultimately the parish’s convent and rectory, upkeep of the 19th-century church has been a strain.
It cost $44,531 in 2016-17 and anticipated future repair costs are beyond reach of Our Lady of Consolation, which itself had a deficit of $158,000 that year.
It is believed a possible sale of St. Leo Church will restore financial stability to the parish.
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