By Celine Klosterman
PARNELL — Ann Lillis called St. Joseph Parish a strong, faith-based community with dedicated members.
But “we realize it is a small parish, and we know how things are going with the priest shortage,” said the pastoral associate.
So the 74-family parish, which has declining parishioner numbers and needs costly church repairs, will close after retired Bishop William Franklin presides at its final Mass at 2 p.m. June 28.
Steps that led to closing the parish began more than two years ago. Parish leaders met with diocesan administrators to discuss the viability of the parish, which has an aging membership and few baptisms, first Communions and marriages, said Msgr. John Hyland, vicar general for the Davenport Diocese. At a later meeting, parish leaders discussed with administrators the need to repair the roof and bulging walls of St. Joseph Church. The expense would use up parish savings, he said.
Questions arose: “Should we put out this kind of money? Is this good stewardship, or would it be best for the parish to close and people to go to nearby parishes?” Msgr. Hyland said.
Parish leaders returned to St. Joseph and discussed the matter with parishioners. Later, in a February 2009 letter, Father Patrick Lumsden, pastor, and Dave Jennings, parish council president, wrote to Bishop Martin Amos: “It was decided to petition you that our parish be closed… It saddens us that we must close due to repair costs and diminishing numbers of priests. It obviously isn’t easy for us to make this request, but we understand.”
“The closing was inevitable,” said Bob Lillis, St. Joseph’s finance council president. “We were lucky to stay open as long as we have.” He estimated St. Joseph’s had 120 families 20 years ago; according to diocesan figures, it had 74 families — and two baptisms — last year. But he praised his parish’s “close-knit congregation” and camaraderie.
Not all parishioners agreed with the closing, Msgr. Hyland noted.
Eventually, St. Joseph Church will be torn down and its property put up for sale. Parish sacramental records will go to St. Mary Parish in Williamsburg.
St. Joseph’s cluster parish, St. Joseph in North English, will join the cluster of St. Mary in Williamsburg and St. Patrick in Marengo July 1.
St. Joseph Parish was established in 1888, and its church was built the following year. The parish’s last resident pastor left in 1982.