Parishioners at 46 parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia learned at Masses last weekend that their parishes will begin a program of self-study that may lead to mergers next year, the Archdiocese announced Sunday, Sept. 16.

The parishes are grouped in seven Pastoral Planning Areas in sections of Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties, plus South Philadelphia.

As part of the planning process, parishes within the same geographic area review demographic and financial data, and assess the spiritual activity of the parishes. This is followed by consultation with parish leaders, parishioners in general and the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee, after which recommendations are made.

Specifically, parishioners study demographic shifts in Catholic populations, concentrated density of parishes in a defined geographic area, history of declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, increasing economic challenges that threaten sustainability, a decrease in the availability of clergy to staff parishes and a review of parish facilities.

The new group of parishes under study appear below. (See a detailed parish list here, including links to key indicators of parish sacramental life including infant baptisms, marriages and weekend Mass attendance.)

Bucks County
Pastoral Planning Area 100
Our Lady of Fatima, Bensalem
St. Ann, Bristol
St. Charles Borromeo, Bensalem
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Bensalem
St. Ephrem, Bensalem
St. Mark, Bristol
St. Thomas Aquinas, Croydon

PPA 110
Immaculate Conception B.V.M., Levittown
Our Lady of Grace, Penndel
Queen of the Universe, Levittown
St. Frances Cabrini, Fairless Hills
St. Joseph the Worker, Fallsington
St. Michael the Archangel, Levittown

Delaware County
PPA 310
Holy Spirit, Sharon Hill
Sacred Heart, Clifton Heights
St. Eugene, Primos
St. Joseph, Collingdale

PPA 300
Our Lady of Fatima, Secane
Our Lady of Peace, Milmont Park
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Morton
St. Gabriel, Norwood
St. George, Glenolden
St. Madeline, Ridley Park
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Essington
St. Rose of Lima, Eddystone
Notre Dame de Lourdes, Swarthmore

Montgomery County
PPA 460
Mother of Divine Providence, King of Prussia
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bridgeport
Sacred Heart, Swedesburg
SS. Cosmas and Damian, Conshohocken
St. Augustine, Bridgeport
St. Gertrude, West Conshohocken
St. Mary, Conshohocken
St. Matthew, Conshohocken

PPA 480
Queen of Peace, Ardsley
St. David, Willow Grove
St. John of the Cross, Roslyn
St. Luke the Evangelist, Glenside

South Philadelphia
PPA 630
Holy Spirit
St. Charles Borromeo
St. Edmond
St. Gabriel
St. Monica
St. Richard
St. Rita of Cascia
St. Thomas Aquinas

The archdiocesan news release stated three possible outcomes for the planning process: merger of parishes; no change in parish structure but inclusion of a plan for future sustainability; or a recommendation for future study.

In a new development for the planning process, the four auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese will celebrate a Mass with the parishioners and pastors of each of the PPAs under study. Each bishop is responsible for one of four regions of parishes in the archdiocese, with each divided into several PPAs.

The “collaborative and consultative” process is designed to provide pastors, after consulting their parish leadership, with the opportunity to work with the Strategic Planning Committee to provide joint recommendations to Archbishop Charles Chaput for growth and sustainability within the respective geographic areas, according to the release.

The committee consists of lay persons, priests and archdiocesan personnel who are examining all parishes within the Archdiocese. The committee aims to gauge the viability of parishes and “assess whether they possess the resources to accomplish their role in the mission of the Church while remaining sustainable and vibrant faith communities,” the release said.

The Strategic Planning Committee shares all final proposals for parishes with the Council of Priests and College of Consultors — committees representing bishops and priests in the Archdiocese — for their review before final approval by the Archbishop.

The parish planning process began with a pastoral letter by Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired Archbishop of Philadelphia, in the fall of 2010. It called on all parishes in the archdiocese to determine whether they possess “the resources necessary to accomplish their roles in the mission of Christ while remaining sustainable and vibrant faith communities,” the release said.

“It is hoped that the end result will be the strongest possible parishes that are poised for stability, growth, and service to God’s people now and far into the future throughout the Archdiocese.”

At the time of Cardinal Rigali’s letter the archdiocese consisted of 266 parishes. Today there are 236 parishes, the result of two waves of mergers or closures following the planning process in 2012 and 2011.

Any mergers or closures resulting from the planning initiative among the newest group of parishes are expected to be announced in the spring of 2014, with newly merged parishes and/or closures effective July 1, 2014.