Bishop David Bonnar approves petition from St. Francis of Assisi Parish
October 9, 2023
CONTACT: Justin Huyck, Director of Communications, (330) 744-8451, ext. 320, email@example.com
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown announces the closure of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Canton, Ohio, popularly called Saint Mary’s, which is one of three church buildings for St. Francis of Assisi Parish. (St. Anthony Church and St. Benedict Church are also worship sites for the parish.) St. Francis of Assisi Parish was established in July of this year from the merger of St. Mary/St. Benedict Parish and St. Anthony/All Saints Parish. In accordance with Church law, the decision to close St. Mary Church followed the same process as the previous parish merger and similar decisions around the diocese: after consultation at the parish level, building upon the 2019 regionalized pastoral plan promulgated by the late Bishop George Murry, a formal petition was made by the parish’s pastoral and finance councils to Bishop David Bonnar on September 11, 2023, and considered by the diocese’s presbyteral (priests) council on September 25, 2023. Bishop Bonnar has accepted the presbyteral council’s unanimous recommendation and issued a formal decree. The decision was announced on October 7 and 8 at the parish’s Masses, in a letter from Bishop Bonnar to St. Francis of Assisi parishioners.
Deliberations about the future of St. Mary Church and the possibility of its closure were begun before the July parish merger by the pastoral and finance councils of the former St. Mary/St. Benedict Parish. In his letter, Bishop Bonnar commended Rev. Kevin Peters, who was appointed as pastor of the new parish of St. Francis of Assisi in July, noting that upon his arrival, Father Peters “led your parish’s pastoral and finance councils, and your entire community, into a deepened, methodical, patient, and transparent discernment process.”
In their petition to Bishop Bonnar, members of the parish’s pastoral and finance councils explained that deferred maintenance costs for St. Mary Church were not financially feasible and that the cost of supporting three church buildings would have a negative impact on the ability to maintain and grow parish ministries necessary for the healthy life of the St. Francis of Assisi community. The petition also noted that the global pandemic leveled a grave impact on both financial support and Mass attendance, adding that for the parish’s two priests to most effectively be present to the entire community, both at St. Francis of Assisi parish and Holy Family parish in Navarre and Brewster, an adjusted Mass schedule became necessary. Finally, the petition expressed a hope that, though the closure of St. Mary Church would be painful, new possibilities are emerging for providing more effective religious formation for adults and children to the entire parish.
Bishop Bonnar will celebrate a closing Mass at Saint Mary Church on Monday, November 6 at 6 p.m.
In his letter to parishioners, Bishop Bonnar wrote that, “It is always sad when a church building closes because it holds so many memories. The history of St. Mary Church is one to be proud of, stretching over 120 years. The advent of the highway system in the 1960’s and 1970’s certainly changed the neighborhood around the Church, influenced population shifts, and eventually led to the closing of the school. But those difficult memories cannot take away the reality that God was present at St. Mary’s throughout its history: in beautiful liturgies, excellent teachers, devoted priests and in the Sisters of St. Joseph, and through programs of outreach and pastoral care.”
The beginnings of St. Mary Church date back to 1869 when the site for the eventual church, in the southern section of Canton, was purchased. After a thirty-year wait, the cornerstone was laid in 1899, with the church completed and dedicated in 1900, the same year that the parish’s school opened. The school would eventually close in 1982 due to decreased enrollment resulting from population shifts, shifts that would also impact other aspects of parish life. In 2011, St. Mary Church became part of the merged St. Mary/St. Benedict Parish, and then St. Francis of Assisi Parish this year.
In accordance with his responsibilities as bishop to ensure that the Church’s history is preserved and artifacts are treated with reverence and respect, Bishop Bonnar has directed the diocese’s office of archives and patrimony to catalogue and preserve sacred objects from St. Mary Church, work with Father Peters to determine an appropriate use for sacred objects, and ensure that that the story of St. Mary Church is documented, interpreted, and told through the diocese’s professional archival efforts.