Officials announced at Sunday Masses that parishes in Manayunk and Germantown in the city and in Coatesville in Chester County would be merged as part of ongoing restructuring that "will ultimately strengthen parish communities, positioning them for future growth and sustainability."
"Change is rarely easy," Archbishop Charles Chaput told congregations in the announcement, which cited demographic shifts in Catholic populations and concentrated density of parishes in a limited geographic area. Also cited as factors in the mergers were declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, economic problems and a decrease in available clergy.
All 267 parishes in the five-county archdiocese are being reviewed with an eye toward long-term restructuring.
The announcement said that as of July 1:
In Coatesville, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish and St. Cecilia Parish will merge under the name of the former, as will St. Joseph Parish and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish. In Germantown, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Vincent de Paul Parish will merge under the name of St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
In Manayunk, St. Lucy Parish and Holy Family Parish will merge under the name of the latter, and St. John the Baptist Parish, St. Josaphat Parish and St. Mary of the Assumption Parish will merge under the name of St. John the Baptist Parish. Spared were St. Athanasius Parish and St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish in the West Oak Lane/East Mount Airy area, which the archdiocese said would remain free-standing parishes.
The archdiocese said more study was needed on Phoenixville's Holy Trinity Parish, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and Sacred Heart Parish, but a decision is expected within the next few months. Further consideration will also be given before a decision is made by spring 2013 on Germantown/Mount Airy's Holy Cross Parish, St. Benedict Parish, St. Madeleine Sophie Parish and St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish.
The Rev. Charles Zlock's announcement that St. Mary of the Assumption would dissolve into St. John the Baptist was met with an audible gasp from 78-year-old Eleanor Schommer, a member since she was married there 53 years ago, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
"I knew it was coming, but I didn't know it happened," she said tearfully as Mass concluded. "I prayed to keep it open."
Former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua began a review process in the late 1990s in which parishes were asked to study their own viability and that of neighboring parishes and recommend which should be closed. About a dozen parishes were closed or merged, but in many cases small churches were allowed to remain open.
Robert Miller, director of the archdiocese's office of research and planning, told the newspaper in a recent interview that about 30 priests wound up administering two or even three "twinned" parishes. He said archdiocesan officials "expect to be giving (the closings and mergers) more direction."
"It's a fairly demanding process," he said. "But what will come out of it will be the church of the 21st century."