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Donora church won't be reopened

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Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 1:16 a.m.

Growing up in Donora, John Bedner has fond memories of midnight Mass at St. Dominic Church.

“It was the peacefulness of the church and the serenity,” Bedner said “It was where you felt one with God. It felt like home.”

But any hopes of future Christmases in the downtown Donora church appeared dashed Monday.

Just days after the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced it would reopen St. Anthony Church in Monongahela for Saturday night Masses, Bishop David A. Zubik confirmed that the Vatican has upheld his decision to keep St. Dominic Church in Donora closed.

In a letter to Zubik, the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy announced it was upholding Zubik's decision regarding St. Dominic.

Responding to a petition to reopen the church building, the Congregation for Clergy rejected the petition, stating it “does not have a canonical basis in law or in fact.”

The decision paves the way for the Diocese to sell the building, which has been closed since Aug. 15, 2011.

In contrast, in a letter released Friday, Zubik said in the best interest of unity of the parish and after consultation with pastor the Rev. William Terza, 4 p.m. anticipated Masses would be celebrated at the St. Anthony building in Monongahela effective Dec. 15.

Both the 8:30 a.m. and the 11 a.m. Masses on Sundays will be celebrated at the Transfiguration church building.

“How can you treat one community differently than another community?” asked John Lignelli.

Bedner summed up the feeling of many people.

“I think there will be many disappointed parishioners and many disappointed people of Donora,” Bedner said.

Bedner, who was among those who petitioned the Vatican to reconsider Zubik's decision, said he did not feel the bishop and the Rev. Pierre M. Falkenhan, pastor of Our Lady Of The Valley, treated the people of St. Dominic with respect.

“I am very disappointed in that decision,” Bedner said. “I feel we deserved better. I'll pray for both of them.”

Bedner said the decision could be appealed.

“We'll talk about that and see where we go from there,” he said.

“I'm not happy in the least,” added parishioner Jerry Magone. “The people who were involved are not going to be happy in the least.”

Lignelli said he believes the people of Donora deserve to know the reason or reasons behind the decision to close St. Dominic.

Lignelli, longtime mayor of Donora, expressed concerns that the building will not be sold and instead be left to deteriorate. He cited St. Charles Church, located on the corner of Eighth and Heslep streets, and Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Second Street, as other church buildings in the same situation. He the borough could be forced to pay to have such buildings razed.

“I hope (St. Dominic) never gets torn down because that's a beautiful showpiece,” Lignelli said.

In 1992, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl decreed the merger of four parishes in Donora, creating the new parish of Our Lady of the Valley. At that time, two worship sites were retained for use by the new parish — St. Philip Neri and St. Dominic.

The Diocese commenced a study more than five years ago. As a result of that study, it was determined that there should be three parishes to serve the three communities of Donora, Monongahela and Charleroi. That prompted the closure of the St. Anthony and St. Dominic sites.

Zubik was asked by a small group of St. Dominic parishioners to reconsider that decision, but when he did not withdraw the decree after further study, the parishioners addressed their concern to the Congregation for Clergy, a right they have under the law of the Church.

Nearly 40 fellow parishioners of the former St. Anthony Catholic Church protested outside the Diocese's Pastoral Center on the Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh in June. That led to meetings involving the parishioners and Diocese leaders.

In a letter to the Congregation for Clergy, Zubik presented a detailed financial analysis explaining that St. Dominic parish could not afford to continue to survive with two church buildings.

Zubik also explained that Our Lady of the Valley Parish had centrally located the parish and the school at the St. Philip Neri site, the drawbacks to the St. Dominic building and location, as well as the inability due to the clergy shortage for additional priests to serve in the area.

Zubik explained to the Congregation for Clergy the “motivating causes” in the decision to close St. Dominic church building. These causes were the enhancement of liturgical, pastoral and spiritual unity of the parish, the lack of financial resources to maintain the church of St. Dominic, the lack of architectural, historical or artistic significance to the building, and that the closing of the building would not “diminish the care of souls.”

In the Nov. 20 letter from the Congregation for Clergy, Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, secretary for the Congregation, informed Zubik that his decree concerning St. Dominic was upheld.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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