Weeks after completing its last round of parish mergers and closures, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday that 14 more parishes in Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties could be combined with nearby churches or shuttered.
This time, the archdiocese is targeting three clusters of churches for cutbacks:
In Delaware County's Springfield Township, the parishes of St. Francis of Assisi, Holy Cross, and St. Kevin.
In Montgomery County, the parishes of St. Alphonsus in Maple Glen, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph in Ambler, St. Catherine of Siena in Horsham, St. Genevieve in Flourtown, and Holy Martyrs in Oreland.
In Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood, the parishes of St. Adalbert, St. George, Mother of Divine Grace, Nativity BVM, and Our Lady Help of Christians.
A panel of church members, priests, and staff will evaluate the parishes based on membership, attendance, finances, facility needs, and the "decrease in the availability of clergy to staff parishes," the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a news release. Some parishes may close, some may merge, and some may stay the same. Results will be announced in late spring of 2015.
In 2012, the archdiocese merged a dozen parishes in Germantown, Manayunk, and Coatesville into five churches, closing the other seven. In June, it announced plans to shut 16 churches in Philadelphia and three suburban counties, and send their members into 13 neighboring parishes. After the latest 14 go through the process, the archdiocese plans to review 125 more.
The announcement, made Sunday after most services had concluded, trickled out slowly.
The Rev. John C. Moloney posted a message on the St. Kevin website, praying for "the patience and grace to complete this work with the necessary focus and dignity."
A joint Mass for the three Springfield parishes is scheduled for Oct. 20. The churches are only a few miles apart and serve a combined 3,300 parishioners on average each weekend.
The five Philadelphia parishes serve about 2,000 members each weekend, and are clustered blocks away from one another in Port Richmond. They date from the late 1800s and early 1900s, when immigrant Catholics built separate churches and schools and imported their own priests and nuns - Italians at Mother of Divine Grace, Poles at St. Adalbert, Germans at Our Lady Help of Christians.
The six Montgomery County parishes are much farther apart, in suburbs around the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Route 309. On a typical weekend, they serve a combined 5,900 members.
A 2011 study by University of Pennsylvania professor Rad Cnaan and the Partnership for Sacred Places estimated the economic benefit of a Catholic parish, school, and community center – Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic parish in Kensington – at more than $22 million a year, including the reduction in public school and social services expenses that could otherwise have been borne by Philadelphia taxpayers. In parishes that have already gone through the process, some members accepted the changes as a sign of the times.
"You see the declining attendance each week," Mary DeAngelis said in June at the last Mass at Holy Spirit in South Philadelphia. "You could practically count heads from your pew here."
For others, losing the parish where their families were raised, baptized, married, and buried was an emotional blow.
"It was like a funeral," said John Kennedy, a lifelong member of Notre Dame de Lourdes Church in Swarthmore, which also closed in June. "It was like burying a friend."
At least two of the 16 parishes that closed over the summer were preparing to appeal directly to the Vatican. Since the archdiocese began merging parishes in 2010, authorities in Rome have not overturned any of the decisions.