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Many ethnic parishes slated to disappear in Scranton diocese - Robb - 02-24-2009

Many ethnic parishes established in NEPA long ago will disappear with church consolidations<CENTER></CENTER><BR clear=all><DIV id=photo style="MARGIN: 0px 0px 10px"><TABLE class=photobox cellSpacing=2 cellPadding=0 border=0><TBODY><TR><TD class=photocell>[Image: sc_times_trib.20090215.a.pg1.tt15ethnic_...4_top2.jpg]</TD></TR><TR><TD class=photocutline></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE><DIV style="BORDER-RIGHT: #cccccc 1px solid; BORDER-TOP: #cccccc 1px solid; PADDING-LEFT: 5px; MARGIN: 0px 0px 5px 10px; BORDER-LEFT: #cccccc 1px solid; WIDTH: 300px; BORDER-BOTTOM: #cccccc 1px solid"><TABLE class=share_story_box cellSpacing=2 cellPadding=0 border=0><TBODY><TR><TD class=share_story_header vAlign=top align=left> Share This Story:</TD></TR><TR><TD class=share_story_middle vAlign=top align=left><A href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: delicious.gif]</A><A title=digg href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: digg.gif]</A><A title=NewsVine href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: newsvine.gif]</A> <A title=ReddIt href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: reddit.gif]</A> <A title=Google href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: google.gif]</A> <A title=FaceBook href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: facebook.gif]</A> <A title=Yahoo href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: yahoo.gif]</A> <A title=Technorati href="" target=_blank target=_blank>[Image: technorati.gif]</A><SCRIPT language=javascript>document.write('<sc'+'ript src=\'\' badgetype=\'text\' showbranding=\'1\'>the_timestrib696:'+document.location.href+'</sc'+'ript>')</SCRIPT><SCRIPT src="" ____yb="1" badgetype="text" showbranding="1">the_timestrib696:</SCRIPT> <SPAN style="PADDING-LEFT: 20px; CURSOR: hand; LINE-HEIGHT: 16px; POSITION: relative"><SPAN style="DISPLAY: block; BACKGROUND: url( no-repeat left top; LEFT: 0px; WIDTH: 16px; CURSOR: hand; POSITION: absolute; TOP: 0px; HEIGHT: 16px">Yahoo! Buzz</SPAN></SPAN></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></DIV></DIV><!--[component:subhead]BY LAURA LEGERE
STAFF WRITERPublished: Sunday, February 15, 2009
Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 8:51 PM ESTThe bustle last week in the basement of Holy Ghost Church in Olyphant gave no indication of a dying parish.

Thirty men and women, mostly women, were making pierogis in a rough assembly line. It was a scene that had been repeated during decades of Lent and Advent seasons in the traditionally Slovak parish established in 1889. No one knew exactly where the recipe came from, but someone, shouting from a back room, suggested “Krakow, Poland.”

Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton once were places where prayers were whispered in Polish, sins were confessed in German and hymns were sung in Lithuanian.

The diocese will soon have fewer spaces that echoed the sounds of those tongues.

<DIV id=instory><!-- AdSys ad not found for news:m9 The diocese-wide restructuring plan recently announced by Bishop Joseph F. Martino will leave only a fraction of the ethnic, or national, parishes that were established in the 11-county regional church.

There have been 119 national parishes established in the diocese’s history, almost as many as the 141 territorial parishes founded in the diocese. Now, the diocese identifies 79 churches as ethnic churches. After consolidations are complete, there will be just 34 left, not counting the five that will be open as secondary worship spaces temporarily or the one, in Duryea, that will become a territorial parish.

Most of those that remain will be the host sites of consolidations with other ethnic or territorial churches. In many cases, mergers will create combinations of culturally different ethnic parishes that, in the future, will share one sacred space.

<b>Echoes of ‘old country’</b>

Most national parishes in the country were established between the 1880s and the end of World War II, when waves of European immigrants settled in areas where Catholic parishes had often been established by the Irish and where worship was conducted in English and Latin.

As concentrations of Poles, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Italians, Germans and others moved into a region to work, they began to establish churches where they could hear sermons and give confessions in their own languages.

In some places, like Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, a Polish church, a Slovak church and an Italian church would be built in close proximity to, if not right across the street from, the territorial parish that served the greater neighborhood.

In an age when numbers of parishioners and priests are dwindling and fewer people align themselves strictly with their parents’ ethnicity, churches so close together can appear like an unnecessary splintering of services.

James O’Toole, a history professor at Boston College who recently published the book, “The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America,” said it is unusual that so many national parishes have survived in the Diocese of Scranton when such parishes in most dioceses, including Boston, began being phased out during parish consolidations decades ago.

“I think in a way those were easier to close because the people had all moved out and the grandchildren of the Lithuanian children didn’t themselves speak Lithuanian anymore,” he said. “So there wasn’t the demand.”

But while the population migration in and out of Boston and other cities might have made it easier to pare ethnic parishes, the task is more complicated in Northeast Pennsylvania. More than residents of all but one other state in the nation, people in Pennsylvania stay in Pennsylvania. In the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton metro area, where nearly 82 percent of current residents were born in the state, that has translated to people worshiping in the same pews where their grandparents prayed.

Some parishioners are worried that closing ethnic parishes will mean cutting a tie to the past.

“It is a direct connection between America and the old country and the transfer of that faith from one country to another,” said Noreen Foti, a member of Sacred Heart, a Slovak parish in Wilkes-Barre, and the head of a group trying to keep the church open.

She suggests the diocese should have preserved one strong national parish for each of the traditional ethnic churches in both Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, rather than merging churches based on proximity.

“People are really concerned about losing our identity,” she said. “You’re being put out of your church and being put into another church. They’re dispersing parish communities.”

<b>A call to unite</b>

The Diocese of Scranton released a statement saying that “people are justly proud of their ethnic roots, but many people today do not express their ethnicity the way it might have been expressed in the past.”

The statement notes that the observation of ethnic traditions is “still meaningful for those who have maintained certain customs” even though such observations are no longer widespread. Because of that, the diocese-wide restructuring process recommends that parishes “honor and celebrate the rich ethnic heritage of the people ‘whenever appropriate,’ ” but does not mandate how it will be done.

“It will depend on what traditions the parishioners have been observing, and what they would like to maintain and support going forward.”

Monsignor Joseph Kelly, the Episcopal Vicar for Hispanic Ministry in the diocese, noted that the way many recent Latino immigrants have been welcomed into churches may be a model for how different ethnic parishes might come together successfully. The trend of establishing national parishes for immigrant groups has not been revived for new immigrants, in part, because other cultures now meld into American society much more quickly, he said.

At the Church of the Holy Rosary, a traditionally Italian parish in Wilkes-Barre where he is the administrator, the number of Latino parishioners has outgrown the seating capacity of the church, but the traditional community there has been welcoming, teaching the Latino students in religious education classes and helping put up tents and string lights for fiestas.

Just as the Latinos have been able to continue their feasts in an Italian church, he said, Italian, German, Slovak and Polish people should maintain their traditions in their new churches after the ethnic churches close.

Those traditions, he said, are “a deep religious part of who people are. I think that it’s a mistake when so many of our young people have lost that. And very honestly, I think because they have thrown out their parents’ and their grandparents’ traditions, they’re also not practicing the faith.”

In Pittston, where Polish, Lithuanian, and Slovak national parishes were merged at the traditionally Irish territorial parish in 2008, the combination has created a markedly different church, one where each ethnicity has shaped the liturgy and the worship space.

Statues of Saints Casimir, John the Baptist, Joseph, and John the Evangelist, the namesakes of the four churches, all stand in a corner of the nave. Before the start of each Mass, there is a call and response of a phrase that had been said in Slovak and English at St. John the Baptist, the Slovak parish, for decades. During funerals for former members of St. Joseph’s, the Polish church, the organist plays a phrase from a Polish hymn that was special to the congregants there.

Recently, the parish financial and pastoral councils voted to create a $25,000 ethnic heritage fund account. “The money is there for them to do things that honor the traditions of the three churches that were closed, in perpetuity,” the pastor, Monsignor John Bendik, explained.

The success of their efforts might be measured in the attrition rate of the new church. The planners expected the parish would shrink by 30 percent after the merger, but instead it only dropped by 7.5 percent. That means families that were traveling sometimes long distances in order to attend a particular ethnic parish are now still coming to a church that is decidedly multi-ethnic.

“They continue to come to the parish because they want to continue to worship with that community,” said Bill Burke, a former member of St. Joseph Church and a current member of the merged church’s finance and pastoral councils.

He remembered the last Masses, though sad, as celebrations. As each church closed, the congregation lifted the statue of its patron saint and processed it to its new home at St. John the Evangelist.

When they got there, he said, “people from the other parishes were there on the steps to welcome us.”

Back in the basement of Holy Ghost Church in Olyphant, parishioners were cutting squares of dough, pinching the dough wrappers around balls of potato and cheese, fishing the dimpled packets out of boiling water, mixing them in bowls of melted butter with their hands.

Since last year, the task of pierogi-making has been taken over by the Confraternity of Christian Women of the three linked Olyphant Catholic churches, and members of all three churches were there to help on Tuesday. But the room was filled mostly with women from Holy Ghost.

As they explained each step of the process, many of the women noted that it may be the last time they get together to pinch and slice and parboil. Holy Ghost is slated to merge with St. Michael, the Polish national parish in town, at St. Patrick Church in about a year, when Holy Ghost and St. Michael will close.

“This may be it,” Sylvia Estock, president of the women’s group, said, adding that neither St. Michael’s nor St. Patrick’s has the industrial kitchen to handle the task.

Louise Gregorowicz stepped away from a flour-covered table where she was cutting dough and walked to the towering freezer in an adjacent room. “How many churches have this set up?” she asked, opening the door.

She said she is “100 percent Slovak.” Her father helped build Holy Ghost after he worked his shifts in the mines, she and her five children were baptized at the church, she knows all the Slovak hymns and teaches bits of Slovak to her 15 grandchildren. But such emblems of ethnicity, she said, have been “practically destroyed.”

She shrugged her shoulders in her flour-dusted sweatshirt. “My life is here,” she said. “It’s my life.”

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Many ethnic parishes slated to disappear in Scranton diocese - 7HolyCats - 02-24-2009

Quote:Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton once were places where prayers were whispered in Polish, sins were confessed in German and hymns were sung in Lithuanian.

And Mass was said in Latin...

Many ethnic parishes slated to disappear in Scranton diocese - DrBombay - 02-24-2009

I'm somewhat perplexed by the hand wringing over parish closings. While I can appreciate the tragedy of losing beautiful old church buildings (assuming they weren't ruined in the wake of the Council) and the attachment most long time parishoners have, most of these places are fully NO parishes and the blue hairs that populate them would stroke out if you tried to say a Mass in Latin there. If a parish no longer has the numbers necessary to maintain the physical plant (including an "industrial kitchen") of a parish, it's time to move on. Sad, yes, but reality. The Church is more than just physical buildings.

Having said that, the ideal thing would be to dismantle the inner city churches and re-locate them to the suburbs, instead of building these suburban monstrosities that resemble nothing but giant "industrial kitchens." I'm sure such a plan is not cost effective but it would be nice. Failing that, the buildings should be scavenged for what can be re-used and then demolished. Nothing more irritating to me than seeing an old Catholic church building put to a profane use.

Many ethnic parishes slated to disappear in Scranton diocese - ONeill - 02-25-2009

All the churches closing are NO churches. The TLM church (FSSP run St. Michael's) is booming as well as the SSPX chapel in Wilkes-Barre I believe.

One of the contributing factors to this is the reduced population of the area. This area was once much more populous.