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St. Anthony group plans to oppose closure

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Monongahela Catholics out to preserve the St. Anthony worship site are headed back to Pittsburgh.

In August 2012, with its church facing closure, the Society for the Preservation of St. Anthony's protested outside the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh office.

Meetings with diocesan leaders had the desired effect. By the end of 2012, Bishop David Zubik had announced that 4 p.m. Saturday Masses would be celebrated in the St. Anthony building.

But a week ago, Zubik announced he was closing the site for good.

Beginning April 28, the St. Damien of Molokai parish he formed in the summer of 2011 will operate out of one site, the former Transfiguration Church on West Main Street.

The Society for the Preservation of St. Anthony's announced Friday it will appeal the bishop's decision to close the church.

Its first step will take place 10 a.m. Monday outside the diocese office in Pittsburgh. The group will hand-deliver a copy of its first-level appeal.

In August 2011, the diocese – citing dwindling attendance at the church – announced it would merge St. Anthony and Transfiguration into one parish. It was named St. Damien of Molokai in honor of a priest who served lepers in Hawaii.

Initially, all Masses were celebrated at the Transfiguration site.

Following a series of meetings between the bishop and the group, Zubik approved the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass.

Masses are celebrated 8:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday at the Transfiguration site.

“They have a right to make this appeal,” said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, diocesan spokesman.

Lengwin said the hope of a vast majority of parishioners was to put the matter to rest.

“After all the consultation, and people expressing their hopes and prayers, and (Zubik) reflecting on them and making a decision, the people want to find a way to establish unity,” Lengwin said.

The society released a statement about its planned appeal.

“There's a lot of misinformation in the release,” Lengwin said.

In the statement, the society quoted Brody Hale, director of the Catholic Church Preservation Society in Boston and advisor to the local group, as claiming Zubik is not following Canon Law.

“Certainly, the bishop is following Canon Law,” Lengwin said. “We have Canon lawyers in the diocese.”

The society also claims church closings started in Pittsburgh.

“Church closings did not start in Pittsburgh,” Lengwin said. “It was our program of wide consultation that got adopted by other dioceses. They continue in other dioceses and archdioceses through the country.”

Lengwin disputed a fiscal claim by Angelo Ripepi, chairman of the Society for the Preservation of St. Anthony's Church.

“We were a viable parish. We always paid our bills,” Ripepi said in the release.

“The diocese cites shrinking resources as a reason for closing churches. But we pay their bills. Churches send the Diocese 17 cents of every dollar collected in an offering, and that's not enough.

“As soon as Bishop Zubik merges two parishes, his next move is to close a church. Once the parish is restructured according to his liking, he goes in and asks each family to contribute $25,000 over the next five years to his ‘Church Alive!' campaign.”

Lengwin called the $25,000 contribution claim “completely false.”

Ripepi claimed the society vowed to pay to maintain St. Anthony Church. He said weddings were planned for the church this summer and a Mass has been scheduled for a sister city celebration being planned in Monongahela.

In 2012, Monongahela City Council approved a proclamation naming Monongahela and Ono San Pietro, Italy, as sister cities.

The small village in Brescia, Italy, is sending 48 visitors to Monongahela Aug. 22-24 for the establishment of the sister city relationship.

Laura M. Magone, a member of the Society for the Preservation of St. Anthony's Church, said the relationship exists because from 1890 through 1920, 300 people left San Pietro to take jobs in Monongahela area coal mines.

Magone said those Italian immigrants built the first St. Anthony Church a century ago.

Today, 1,000 people live in Ono San Pietro.

“Their cousins are coming, expecting to see what is the centerpiece of the Italian community in Monongahela – St. Anthony's church,” she said.

“They wanted to attend Mass at St. Anthony, the church their relatives built, and now the church will be closed,” Ripepi said.

“What do we tell them? The only thing we needed from the bishop was a priest – the one thing he can't seem to provide. He is showing callous indifference toward the members of his flock.”

Magone said the society members do not want to fight the diocese, adding, “For St. Anthony members, their church family is part of their way of life.

“We are not fighting against Transfiguration. Rather, we are fighting for the people of entire Middle Monongahela Valley who continue to have fewer and fewer priests assigned to their churches.”

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

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