Monday, March 16, 2009


This weekend was historic in the diocese of Cleveland. I am sure it will be discussed and debated for a few generations and will always be a major point whenever the history of the diocese is taught. This is the weekend when over 50 parishes and schools found out whether they would be closed, consolidated, or given a second chance.

The diocese, in its wisdom, had decided to disseminate the plan piecemeal, giving each parish its particular results by letter delivered to the pastor or administrator on Saturday morning between the hours of 9:00AM and 2:00PM. The cleverness of this process means that parishioners will hear the fate of their parish from their pastor before it can be declared in the paper dropped at their door in the morning or on the car radio on the way to Mass as has happened in the past with the result of much heartache and shock. At 10:00AM on Sunday there was a press release for the media after parishes have had a chance share their fate with their people.

So, as I said, there was to be an official representative in the rectory awaiting this important letter delivered by a brown shoed courier who would knock on the door three times and say, “the chair is near the door,” to which we were to respond, “The Pope wears red shoes.” (This last part is entirely made up but would have made the whole to-do much more interesting.) I had confessions and baptisms that morning and so had my business manager come in to receive the letter. We sat in my office with a cup of coffee before I was off to my duties talking with a positive attitude about the future of the parish. Then the thought occurred that there are probably more than a few priests sitting alone in their offices today who know that they are expecting troubling news that will bring sadness to many. They are staring at things and knowing that time was limited to enjoy the place that they have called home.

Coming back from baptisms it was discovered that the letter had still not yet arrived. No other work was really going to get done for the anticipation so there was a hunkering down to wait. But the wait was short lived. The secretary brought the letter in. Apparently UPS delivered the letter to the church and gave it to someone who just happened to be at the baptism and was not even a member of the parish! (The same happened at the friend’s parish. UPS stuck the letter in a door at the school and they would not have discovered it except that someone who forgot something needed to get into the school thank heavens.)

It seemed wrong to open it too quickly. I took the letter to the rectory chapel and first prayed for those pastors and parishes for whom this would be traumatic. Then before the Blessed Sacrament placed the tip of the envelope opener under the flap of the letter marked, “From the Office of the Bishop” and opened it.

Our news was good. There will be more work fine tuning in our cooperation with our cluster parish. But the reality of what happened is beginning to hit more directly. Last night I went out to hear confessions at a local parish for their youth retreat. One of the pastors from a closing parish was there. He put on a good face but you could tell beneath the brave fa├žade was a breaking heart. He had to announce to his people that their parish was closing, will have to stay at the parish through its last duties, and then face another assignment. That is what we sign on for – sure. And I hope I would be as gracious and brave as this man. I’ve probably learned more from him in the few minutes that I spent with him last night than some people can teach in a year’s worth of homilies.

In the end it is the Eucharist, it is Christ, it is His Church, it is His teaching, it is eternal life, it our inheritance in heaven that matters. The rest will all pass. It is just a challenge for some things to pass before we expected.

Here you may find more information from the Plain Dealer.

Here you may find more informaiton from the Diocese of Cleveland.


frival said...

Your entire Diocese is in my prayers this day, Father. This is always a difficult thing to deal with, and we've been doing it here for some years although not with the same sensitivity of planning at times.

Anonymous said...

My parents parish, St. Mary, received news that it is merging with St. Bernard. While I don't attend St. Mary's anymore, I still consider it my home parish and hoped to get married there and raise my kids there. My dad went to the 9, where people were shocked but accepting. I went to the 11, where people were shocked, angry, and even interrupted the closing blessing to ask a few questions. Fr. Burba handled it very well, but there were many discussions after Mass.

Part of me hopes that he appeals to the bishop to reconsider his decision. But I trust Fr. Burba. If he thinks that it's worthwhile to appeal he will. If he doesn't, he won't.

It's hard all around. We all understand that church proper is more than the building. But that doesn't mean it's not home. And losing a home is hard no matter what we know and believe in our hearts and minds.

Anonymous said...

Oh sigh, so very sad, the closing of a parish!

Anonymous said...

Very happy and sad news. We have had some close here.
It is very sad.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post, Father. I am really touched by the way you prayed and opened your letter.

Our Pastor was very compassionate as he made his announcement and encouraging us all to be good Christians and help those in closing/merging parishes. I went to 12 noon mass so the cat was already out of the bag when I went. I knew the decision for our cluster. It was a little different than I thought it would be with the mergers.

There are many angry, upset and sad people. Shall we all pray for those people.

My "home" parish will be closing and it is no surprise to me since the amount of people there has dwindled and the neighborhood has less Catholics. The amount of people at mass was very low when I left there 20 yrs ago. It is sad to think about all that happened on that Holy Ground and what will come of it.

But we need to move forward as the Universal Church. The church is not a building, but it is all of us who will leave this life and by God's mercy be able to join him in eternal life.

Mary B