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Greensburg diocese braces for shakeup

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:49 a.m.

Two parishes in the Greensburg Catholic Diocese will close, several others will merge and the fate of three diocesan elementary schools is in question, Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt announced Friday.

Citing an ever-declining population and funds, as well as a shortage of priests, Brandt said the diocese has been slowly closing and merging schools and parishes since a strategic plan was put in place in 2006.

All parish closings and reorganizations will be effective Tuesday, June 25, 2013.

• St. Hedwig in Smock, Fayette County, and St. Boniface in Latrobe will close. There are other parishes within five to seven miles of the two churches that parishioners can attend, Brandt said.

St. Hedwig has 192 families and St. Boniface has 141 families.

• Merging into one: Madonna of Czestochowa, Cardale; St. Thomas, Footedale; Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Leckrone; All Saints, Masontown; St. Procopius, New Salem; and Holy Rosary, Republic. The new parish will be named St. Francis of Assisi with worship sites in Footedale and Masontown.

The number of Catholics in the six parishes in Western Fayette County that will form St. Francis of Assisi has dropped by 70 percent in the past 50 years and by 25 percent in the past decade, according to the diocese.

• Partnering: St. John the Baptist, Scottdale, will be partnered with St. Joseph, Everson. Our Lady of Grace, Greensburg, will be partnered with St. Benedict, Marguerite, and St. Paul and St. Bruno in Greensburg.

These parishes will share a priest, who will be the pastor of one and administrator of the other, but the parishes will continue to be autonomous. Brandt acknowledged that closures and mergers of parishes is emotional for parishioners.

“I will be celebrating Masses of Welcome and Remembrance in successor parishes,” he said. “Just as I did in 2008, to try to help those who mourn their loss, celebrate their past and find their new parish — a home where they can be comforted and find home for the future.”

Part of the struggling parishes' problem is the declining number of priests, Brandt said.

In 2000, the diocese had 101 active priests. Now, there are 67 and the diocese projects the number to drop to only 27 by 2025.

The number of retirement-age priests who are still assigned to parishes is growing, according to the diocese. Forty of the diocese's 67 priests are 60 or older.

In addition to restructuring parishes, the diocese will look closely at the future of three elementary schools; All Saints Regional School, Masontown; St. John the Baptist Regional Catholic School, Scottdale; and The Cardinal Maida Academy, Vandergrift. The schools have a total of 208 students.

Within the next month, the diocese will host information sessions for parents, teachers and alumni of the schools to distribute facts and figures on the fiscal situation of each school and the diocese.

From there, Brandt will askthe schools to come up with solutions for the difficulties each face, such as declining population and limited funds. The three elementary schools have the lowest enrollment numbers of the diocese's 14 elementary schools.

There is no time line for a decision on fate of the three schools.

“I expect them to provide an informed decision and to make some proposals on what is indeed to be done,” Brandt said.

Kate Wilcox is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or kwilcox@tribweb.com.

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