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Greensburg diocese to close 6 'chapels of convenience'

Linda Horrell understands the Diocese of Greensburg needs to close six chapels because of an ever-dwindling priest population.

But that doesn't assuage her sadness knowing that she'll no longer be able to attend Mass at St. Ann Chapel in Wilpen, which is part of Holy Trinity Parish in Ligonier.

"It's going to be sad. It's a very special little chapel with a strong sense of family down there," said Horrell, 50, of Ligonier Township, who has attended Mass at the chapel since 1983. "I actually live closer to Holy Trinity than I do to St. Ann's. I chose to go to church there because of the quaint community, the people that were there and the church there. It just felt like home."

The diocese announced this week that it will close the six "chapels of convenience" used for weekend Masses effective Jan. 2, 2008. The final Mass at the chapels will be celebrated Dec. 30.

The chapels are all part of larger parishes and offer weekend Masses in addition to those at the larger church.

In addition to St. Ann Chapel, the closing chapels are:

• Two chapels of Holy Family Parish, Seward, in Bolivar and New Florence;

• Chapel of All Saints Parish, Masontown, Fayette County, in McClellandtown;

• Chapel of St. James Parish, Maxwell, Fayette County, in Isabella;

• Chapel of St. Patrick Parish, Brady's Bend, Armstrong County, in Sugar Creek.

Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt said in a statement that the decision was made because of a drastic decline in the number of priests in the diocese, particularly the deaths of seven priests this year.

While three of those priests were retired, they often filled in for priests who were on vacation or ill.

"I recognize that the uncertainty and sadness caused in times of change is difficult," Brandt said in a letter read at recent Masses at the chapels, "but be assured that the spiritual, sacramental and pastoral needs of your entire community and the health and welfare of the priests assigned to you are of foremost concern in my mind."

Brandt said the decision was made based on the deaths as well as recommendations made to him by the diocese's Strategic Planning Steering Committee. That committee compiled information and opinions gathered at a series of listening sessions held at parishes last year.

The closings mean that 19 chapels of convenience have closed since 1996. About 22 to 100 people attended weekend Masses on average at the six chapels about to close, diocesan spokesman Jerry Zufelt said.

More changes are to come.

Brandt said the deaths simply sped up a process of implementing changes recommended by the steering committee.

"We thought we had one to two years to get into implementation of recommendations from the strategic planning process," Brandt said. "We don't have that luxury anymore."

The diocese, which has 18 regional councils at the moment, will reduce that number to 10, Zufelt said. The new councils will convene after the first of the year to discuss potential changes.

"It is an opportunity for people to get together to look at the needs for the region and make recommendations that will help the region both help the church and the region," Zufelt said.

Horrell said she knew the end was near as St. Ann closed for the winter in recent years.

"You can't have priests at all these little mission churches when they barely have enough coming into the diocese to start with to cover the major churches," she said.

Horrell will simply attend Mass at Holy Trinity, as she does during the winter.

"Life changes, and you just have to adjust accordingly," she said.

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