Cincinnati, OH

Cultural issues may be biggest challenge in Archdiocese reducing NW-suburban Cincinnati parishes from 17 to 7 parishes

The Cincinnati Post

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.............................................Cultural issues may be the biggest hurdle in church consolidations.Mother of Christ Catholic Church

The northwestern suburbs of Cincinnati will lose 10 parishes in the next few years due to the Beacons of Light restructuring of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati undertaken in earnest this week with the announcement of "parish families". These parish families, being between 1 and 11 parishes combined, must determine within a couple of years, which of the parishes will survive after full consolidation of the parish families.

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................................................Archdiocese of Cincinnati map of new "parish families" in northwestern suburbsThe Cincinnati Post

Currently, the suburbs north of the city, primarily Colerain, Green, and Springfield townships, as well as, Mt. Airy, are coming to terms with the establishment of these parish families and wondering which church will make the final cuts in the next year or so. Archbishop Schnurr has left it up to each "parish family" to determine what churches remain open and which close, not the archdiocese. The new parish councils will weigh issues such as the existence of a school, facility amenities like ball fields, concessions, kitchens and auditoriums/halls, and size and location. However, the elephant in the room that will present the greatest challenges for some parishioners will be cultural issues: wealth and race.

After the feedback period for parishioners on the creation of "parish families," they will combine resources, merge councils, share staff, and immediately start sharing priests. There will be some interesting challenges as they weigh factors to determine which facility becomes the final home parish for the parish family.

One parish family created by the archdiocese is the St. Ann's, St. James - White Oak, and St. Margaret Mary church "family." St. Ann's has good practice at consolidations. In 2008, St. Ann's, St. Margaret Mary, Assumption, and St. Claire's in College Hill had already consolidated their schools. Later, "Little Flower" joined. They formed Our Lady of Grace School and boasts over 400 students with one of the most diverse student bodies in the entire archdiocese with nearly 50% minorities and 35% who are members of another faith. The school accepts school choice vouchers which opens the doors to a socio-economically diverse student body and congregation.

On the other hand, St. James has a stellar school that has won Blue Ribbon awards for years. They have over 500 students, a very monolithic student body, staff, and congregation. It is a wealthy parish compared to St. Ann's middle class. St. James, unlike St. Ann's, has such minimal diversity that it isn't reported. St. James boasts amenities, accomplishments, and stability. Having 2 operational schools in the parish family makes this a hard final decision. There will certainly be a culture clash and there will be an exodus of parishioners to neighboring parishes if St. Ann's is determined to be the last parish standing. If it weren't for the diversity issues, St. James would have a clear advantage.

Another local parish family is the Corpus Christi, St. John's - Dryridge and St. John Neuman parishes. Of the 3 parishes, St. John's - Dry Ridge clearly has all the bells and whistles: an operational school, large facility, and lots of amenities. In all likelihood, St. John's - Dry Ridge will become the final choice by the unified council.

St. Ignatius is combining with St. Bernards in Taylor Creek. Here, too, the final stand will go to that parish that has the best facility, "St. I's". While both have Catholic schools, St. Bernards could not realistically hold the students from St. I's and the facility amenities such as ball fields, concessions, and a great location off the highway will make this a no-brainer.

The most difficult trio to determine "winner" in the church standoff has already taken steps to consolidate. In 2000, St. Matthias, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St. James of the Valley joined forces to share a priest and programming. They are called the Winton Wyoming Pastoral Region, WWPR. In 2008, they consolidated schools under the banner of John Paul II Catholic School and draw students of several surrounding parishes already. Your guess is good as mine to figure out which church keeps the steeple doors open. They are pretty equal in most respects.

The biggest quandary comes with the 4-member parish family of "Little Flower," Mother of Christ, St. Clare, and the Church of the Resurrection. While "Little Flower" clearly outranks all the others on size, having school facilities, if desired, and amenities, their location is incompatible with their fellow parishioners down near Elmwood. Two of the 4 churches combined are in poor, black neighborhoods without transport "Little Flower" is predominantly white, if not overwhelmingly so. Mother of Christ church is nearly entirely black. In fact, Mother of Christ church features the only racially balanced depictions of Jesus and other persons in the Bible within the parish. This may present some cultural issues for current "Little Flower" parishioners. Regardless of which church is selected to continue on, it is likely that the "Little Flower" congregants will split with their parish family and make an exodus toward a less diverse parish family.

The financial aspects will likely prevail as the motivating factor in determining which churches remain open in the long run. However, whether dealing with the disparity in incomes or the racial composition, some of the parish families will face some difficult issues.

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