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Church could have been closed with compassion

July 24, 2011
Morning Journal News

Many changes in our world have been necessitated by the economic decline the entire country has been experiencing lately.

Few of us like change, especially when it strikes at the very soul of our being. Such is the case with Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Wellsville and plans by the Diocese of Youngstown to close it.

While the church's closing may have been inevitable, the situation should have been handled better.

In a recent letter to parishioners, Bishop George V. Murray said that in February 2010, he presented the proposed plan to merge the parishes of St. Aloysius and St. Ann's churches in East Liverpool with Immaculate Conception in Wellsville, along with changes to several other area Catholic churches. Murry said the letter invited parishes, through their pastor/administrator, to offer comments on what was unworkable or needed adjustment. Murry said five parishes contacted him, but no objections were received from Immaculate Conception's pastor, parish council or finance council prior to the March 2010 deadline.

Why? Because, according to parishioner Beverly Hentzell, no one in the congregation was aware there had been a deadline, nor was anyone at Immaculate Conception ever advised objections to the plan were possible. The Youngstown Diocese said a letter was sent to every parishioner, but none of the opposing parishioners say they received it.

Murry wrote a joint pastoral council and finance board formed by the Rev. Peter Haladej, pastor of the local parishes, and the Rev. Nicholas Shori, diocesan director of implementation, consisting of representatives of both Immaculate Conception and St. Aloysius recommended the closure of the Wellsville church by a vote of 27 to 1.

Just who were those representatives of Immaculate Conception Church? The people who have formed the Committee to Save Immaculate Conception Church are all long-time parishioners who have been very active in the church and its various ministries. These people should have been informed of their right to object, and at least some of them should have been should have been included on the joint pastoral council. Someone certainly dropped the ball in failing to keep these church members apprised of the situation.

Now parishioners have been told that yesterday's Mass was the last to be celebrated at Immaculate Conception. The church will close and merge with St. Aloysius as part of a reconfiguration plan set down by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, even though the decision is being appealed by the Committee to Save Immaculate Conception Church.

We sympathize with the parishioners and their grief over losing their church, which one parishioner equated with experiencing a death in the family. Parishioners may have been better equipped to handle the loss if their voices had been heard during the decision-making process.



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