South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

Pittsburgh Diocese will close St. John Vianney

Church and parish will be closed in April


Saint John Vianney Church and Parish will close after Mass on April 3. Current parishioners will be disbursed between three neighboring parishes: Saint Mary of the Mount, Saint Basil and Prince of Peace.

Mounting debt and declining attendance were considerations in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh's decision to close Saint John Vianney Parish on the Hilltop.

"This decision was a very difficult one for me to make as your Bishop. I know that it is a difficult decision for some of you to receive as well," Bishop Zubik said in a letter to the parishioners of Saint John Vianney, which he personally shared during the 4 p.m. Mass he celebrated at Saint John Vianney Church on Saturday, Jan. 23.

The parish and church building will be closed after Mass on Sunday, April 3.

Parishioners were first informed of the possibility of the closings in a parish meeting in August of last year.

In a news release sent out by the diocese, it was noted over the past decade the territory Saint John Vianney serves has had a population loss of 27 percent, while parish membership has declined 77 percent, from 5,852 to 1,358. Weekly Mass attendance has dropped from 850 to 392, and about half the members live outside the parish territory.

Much of the membership loss is because parishioners have either moved away or died. In addition, Saint John Vianney Parish has a debt of a little more than $3 million and the church building requires more than $1 million in repairs.

Saint John Vianney Parish was created in 1994 from a merger of the former Saint Joseph, Saint George, Saint Canice and Saint Henry Parishes. Saint John Vianney initially used all four church buildings. Today only the church that originally belonged to Saint George is in use.

The parish includes 10 communities including Allentown, Beltzhoover, Knoxville, Mount Oliver and Arlington Heights, among others. Upon dissolution, the parish will be split among neighboring parishes: Saint Mary of the Mount on Mount Washington, Saint Basil in Carrick and Prince of Peace Parish in South Side.

A transition team representing the four parishes will make plans to welcome new parishioners. It will also work to ensure the continuation of parish-sponsored services to the Hilltop neighborhoods, including the food pantry and attention to elderly and homebound residents.

In October, 2014, Father Thomas R. Wilson, who was then the parish priest, and both the parish pastoral and finance councils, raised concerns that Saint John Vianney was no longer financially sustainable. Father Wilson brought that concern to Bishop Zubik, who began a process of consultation that culminated in July 2015 with a meeting open to all parishioners. At the same time, written responses were solicited from all parishioners about their concerns for the future.

In late August 2015, and once again with the support of a majority of the parish pastoral and finance councils, Father Wilson petitioned Bishop Zubik to dissolve Saint John Vianney Parish, close the building and divide the territory among the three neighboring parishes. Also in late August, the pastors of those three parishes sent petitions to Bishop Zubik, asking to receive the territory and welcome the parishioners from Saint John Vianney. After consulting with his Priest Council in September, and receiving an engineering report describing the need for more than $1 million in repairs, Bishop Zubik granted the petitions.

On January 11 Father Wilson started a six-month leave of absence for health reasons. Father Michael J. Stumpf, pastor of Saint Mary of the Mount, is serving as interim administrator of Saint John Vianney.

With Father Stumpf overseeing two parishes, there will be a change in Mass schedules. Starting the weekend of February 6-7, Saint John Vianney will have one weekend Mass, on Sunday at 10 a.m. Daily Mass will be celebrated at Saint John Vianney on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m.

The Saint George Church Preservation Society (SGCPS) formed shortly after the announcement in August with the mission to save the church building itself.

The group has been fundraising to appeal the diocese decision and to make the needed repairs and provide upkeep on the church building. They plan to use social media to reach out to former parishioners across the country in their preservation and fundraising efforts.

The SGCPS has previously stated it was prepared to appeal the closing to the Vatican. More information about the Saint George Church Preservation Society is available on their Facebook page.


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