Tuesday was a day of rejoicing for members of two Akron parishes who had petitioned the Vatican to reopen their churches.
“I just jumped up out of my chair and shouted, ‘Whoopee!’ ” said Irene Hill, 93. “I was sitting down having my lunch and drinking a cup of coffee when I heard it on the [television] news. Boy, did I jump! I had tears in my eyes. It was just good to hear that St. John’s will be reopening.”
Hill said the news — that Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon has decided to reopen 12 churches in response to Vatican rulings that upheld appeals from parishioners challenging his orders to close the parishes — was an answer to prayers from throughout the diocese.
Lennon announced during a news conference Tuesday in Cleveland at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist that he would not appeal rulings by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy that reversed his orders.
Two of the parishes, St. John the Baptist and St. Mary’s, are in Akron.
“It’s time for peace and unity in the Diocese of Cleveland,” Lennon said. “More than ever, this is a time for Catholics to come together with God’s help and strive to strengthen our diocesan church’s serving the pastoral and spiritual needs of all the faithful.”
Lennon said his decision came after prayer and consultation with clergy, laity and experts in church law.
Parishioners of the 12 churches had appealed to the Vatican, asking that their churches be reopened because they were self-sustaining. The Congregation for Clergy ruled that Lennon’s mandates to close the churches were not valid because he did not follow church law and procedure.
Lennon received the official documents from the rulings March 14. He had 60 days to appeal to the Vatican’s high court but declined because “doing so would prolong the process a number of years and would create more uncertainty and continue to divide our Catholic family,” Lennon said.
Hill, who appealed to the Vatican on behalf of St. John’s, and Mary Willett, who appealed for St. Mary’s, said they were grateful Lennon chose not to appeal and instead will carry out the directives of the Vatican.
Worried about reopening
Willett, however, was less optimistic than Hill that the parishes can be restored.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to renew what we had. That’s just my opinion, and I hope I’m wrong, but people have settled at other parishes,” said Willett, 78.
“I’m not sure how many will come back. The parish family has been split up. I have prayed and fought for St. Mary’s and I am grateful that the Vatican heard the petitions of the people. I still pray that St. Mary’s will be allowed to open again.
“It’s in the hands of God.”
As part of the reconfiguration plan, St. Mary’s merged with St. Bernard to become St. Bernard-St. Mary parish. The new parish operates a school at the St. Mary’s site, 750 S. Main St., and worships at the St. Bernard site, 44 University Ave.
St. Mary’s church is being used for school Masses.
The Rev. Daniel Reed, pastor at St. Bernard-St. Mary, called Lennon’s decision “honorable for the sake of peace.” He said parishioners have the same questions they had immediately after the news the Vatican had overturned the bishop’s closings.
Those questions include: What’s going to happen to the merged parish? Will parishioners go back to St. Mary’s? Will Reed remain pastor?
“We will continue on a day-to-day basis for the next couple of months, responding to the needs of the people,” Reed said. “We will wait to see how the reopening unfolds.”
Willett said she, too, will wait and pray to determine whether she will return to St. Mary’s as her home parish. She has not registered in another parish.
Hill, on the other hand, has registered at St. Paul’s parish, several blocks from the closed St. John’s parish on Brown Street. Once St. John’s reopens, she intends to transfer back.
“I have been at St. John’s all my life. I made my communion there. I went to school there. There is no doubt that I would return,” Hill said. “This is what I’ve been praying for.”
St. John the Baptist is now part of Visitation of Mary Parish at Annunciation Church, 87 Broad St. Annunciation and St. John merged to form Visitation of Mary.
St. John, at 1034 Brown St., is closed.
Like Reed, the Rev. Jonathan Zingales said he is waiting to hear from Lennon with details of the process for reopening the parishes.
“I concur with the bishop on this matter. It is a very, very complex matter and there are no easy solutions,” Zingales said.
“What we can do right now is be people of peace and look forward to see what the Lord provides.”
St. John’s and St. Mary’s were among 50 parishes closed or merged between August 2009 and June 2010 as part of a diocesan reconfiguration. Diocesan leaders said the closings were necessary to address declining attendance, financial hardship, demographic shifts and a worsening priest shortage.
In announcing the reopenings, Lennon said those concerns still exist. He said that once the parishes are re-established, they will need to “demonstrate on an ongoing basis that they have active membership and the financial wherewithal to sustain themselves.”
The other churches that Lennon indicated would be reopened are St. Mary in Bedford, St. Mary in Lorain, St. James in Lakewood, and St. Adalbert, St. Barbara, St. Casimir, St. Emeric, St. Patrick, St. Peter and St. Wendelin in Cleveland.
While the diocese has sold a number of church properties that were closed, church law prohibited the sale of churches that were under appeal. Sacred objects, like chalices and statues, were put in storage.
No timetable has been set for the reopenings. Lennon said they could happen within “a couple of months” and would be determined on an individual basis.
Among the first steps in the process are finding personnel (pastors or administrators) to staff them and returning the sacred items.
The downsizing plan left the diocese with 174 parishes in Cuyahoga, Summit, Medina, Wayne, Ashland, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties. Diocesan records indicate there are 710,351 Catholics in the eight-county area.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com.