Thirty-three parishes in rural North Dakota will close within the next six years due a shift of the population to urban centres, leaving parishes with too few members and priests to carry out the ministry of the church, reported GrandForksHerald.com.
Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo made the announcement at a press conference Aug. 21. Yesterday, he celebrated masses in three of these parishes.
The consolidation decisions were made for pastoral and not financial reasons, said the bishop. The goal was to ensure that each parish could effectively carry out such ministries as religious education, liturgy and elderly care.
The bishop pointed out that church closings are not unusual and that, since 1871, 172 parishes and missions have been closed in the diocese while more than 100 others were built.
So while plans are under way to close 21 percent of all parishes in the diocese and consolidate them with larger parishes nearby, the bishop said, plans are also under way to open a new parish in West Fargo as the population there swells.
The parish-closure announcement comes as no surprise. For the past year, each parish went through a review of its viability, and results showed that the number of families was declining. Many of these parishes have fewer than 30 families with few young people.
In fact, the closure will directly impact only 521 families – less than two percent of the diocese's 28,000 families.
The bishop acknowledged that it has been a painful process for those parishioners directly involved. "We will mourn the church buildings that will no longer be used,” he said, recognizing people’s attachment to their parish churches.
“We recognize, however, that our faith is more than the buildings in which we have worshiped," he continued.
The fate of the church buildings will vary. A parish church in Bathgate is historically significant and will be donated to the Pembina County Historical Society. Parishioners already have razed another church building because it was in poor shape. Others may be kept open for occasional use as chapels or be given away to other churches.