PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For the past two decades, St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Baldwin and those in surrounding communities have been losing parishioners and not attracting new ones.
In a consolidation that has become commonplace throughout the Diocese, St. Albert’s merged with three other parishes to form Holy Apostles Parish, with just Fr. Stephen Kresak and one vicar to attend to them all.
“We acknowledge that it’s sad, and we acknowledge that it’s difficult, but we also acknowledge that none of us excepted this to happen or wanted it to happen, but we also acknowledge that true church isn’t about a building, it’s about community gathered together,” said Fr. Kresak.
Similar mergers are under consideration through the Diocese; and on Monday night, church leaders started holding meetings, which will take place in all 192 parishes over the next eight weeks. Church officials will hear directly from the parishioners on how best to use shrinking resources.
“To have meetings of the faithful, to be able to present to them models of what parish life might look like going forward and for them to be able to provide feedback,” said Fr. Nicholas Vaskov.
The meeting at St. Richard Roman Catholic Church in Richland Township was one of three sessions in North Hills churches Monday. The session started with a videotaped message from Bishop David Zubik reassuring churchgoers.
“I know the work we are about to begin will be a challenge, and I also know you are up to that challenge,” the message said.
Fr. Thomas Sparacino, the pastor at St. Richard Church, told KDKA-TV’s Ralph Iannotti, “Our days as a Parish community aren’t numbered, but they really are numbered in the sense that we only have a certain number of days on this earth to draw people closer to Christ, and that has to be our mission.”
The Diocese-wide meetings are in response to a rapidly shrinking number of both parishioners and priests — and those numbers are beyond distressing.
Attendance of Mass is down 40 percent over the last decade and half from 246,896 in 2000 to 149,215 in 2015.
Over that same 15-year period, the number of priests in active ministry has fallen from 338 to 225, a decrease of 34 percent.
Catholic elementary school enrollment is down 50 percent from 23,690 to 11,540. At the same time, the number of marriages, baptisms, First Communions and Confirmations are also down by half.
“We know our population is older and the younger generation, the millennial generation, which is bigger than the baby boomers in our region, are not pursing a life of faith,” said Fr. Vaskov.
The Diocese must go through the painful process of shuttering more church and a schools, leaning more on the laity to take over things like finances, to free up the priests to perform pastoral duties.
“How do we involve those who might not even be thinking about the church,” Fr. Vaskov said.
More mergers and consolidations are inevitable going forward and church leaders and now involving parishioners in that process as they work and pray for ways to reverse the tide.