Plan to close St. Athanasius Catholic Church gets shelved

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 20, 2013

 The St. Athanasius Catholic Church will remain open at least through June 30, 2015. It had faced closure under a proposal made by a transition committee in October.

The St. Athanasius Catholic Church will remain open at least through June 30, 2015. It had faced closure under a proposal made by a transition committee in October.

Photo by Kevin Bunch

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ROSEVILLE — A plan to close St. Athanasius Catholic Church and merge the nearby Sacred Heart Church and Our Lady Queen of All Saints Church has been scrapped by Bishop Michael Byrnes, as of Nov. 6.

A transition team consisting of members of all three churches was tasked with finding a way to merge the three parishes together by June 30, 2014, and the team submitted a plan to the bishop Oct. 15 that would close St. Athanasius.

Byrnes “set aside” the proposal, however, saying that he felt that it had been made prematurely after reflecting on the dynamics of the meetings he participated in.

“I began our (transition team) meeting on Nov. 5 by suggesting that we set aside the decision of Oct. 15, which identified the two sites to be used by the new community — and the consequent closing of the St. Athanasius site — and focus instead only on the merging of the three parishes,” Byrne wrote in a letter.

Joe Kohn, director of public relations with the Archdiocese of Detroit, said that the proposal from the transition team never made it to the archdiocese level due to Byrnes’ decision. He said the archdiocese has also not heard anything that suggests the parishes will not make the June 30, 2014, deadline under its Together in Faith process, which aims to merge parishes throughout the metro Detroit area in a bid to deal with the declining number of priests.

“We still understand the three parishes are working toward a merger by mid-next year,” Kohn said. “But it’s undetermined, of course, what that merger might mean for the continued operation of the worship sites.”

Byrnes wrote that the transition team reached the consensus that it would put aside the question of closing parishes for the time being in order to focus on the merger as a whole. As such, Byrnes said all three parishes would remain open through June 30, 2015. At that point, he hopes that the parish can consolidate to one or two of the buildings.

“On July 1, 2014, a new parish community will be erected, a new pastor will be assigned, and a new parish council will be formed,” Byrnes wrote. “It will be the responsibility of the new pastor and the new parish council to make a determination as to which of the facilities will best serve the needs and mission of the new parish.”

He said a consolidation would be beneficial financially and administratively for the new parish, reduce the workload for the pastor, and help solidify an identity and mission for the parish as a whole.

According to a Together in Faith informational packet, the three churches must have a plan in place by June 30, 2014. The plan must also include a model for initial collaboration, as well as detail programming, outreach, administration and other services.

Statistics from the packet say that, as of 2012 in the metro Detroit area, there were 281 priests and 267 parishes. The number of priests is expected to drop to 204 by 2021.

Kohn said the merger would not necessarily have anything to do with the archdiocese until there is a final decision for Archbishop Allen Vigneron to make.

Pastor Ron Babich of Our Lady Queen of All Saints Church, and Pastor Eugene Katcher of Sacred Heart and St. Athanasius could not be reached for comment. Byrnes also could not be reached.

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