The Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, will have half as many parishes by 2026 as it does now, as part of a pastoral planning effort focused on helping the diocese “be more intentional in cultivating disciples.”

Bishop Louis Tylka announced on Saturday that between now and May 2026, the diocese will be reshaped from 156 parishes to 75 parishes, with 129 worship sites. The remaining parishes will be overseen by 71 diocesan and religious order pastors; 39 priests will be reassigned. 

The Peoria Diocese covers 26 counties in Illinois. Out of a total population of 1.4 million, nearly 11% of that population is Catholic, the diocese says.

The decision to drastically downsize the diocese comes amid declining Mass attendance there as well as a prediction of a shrinking number of priests. Seventy percent of the 145 total priests ministering in the diocese are over the age of 50. According to the diocese’s projections, in the next 10 years, there may be fewer than 100 active priests.

Mass attendance shrank 22% between 2019 and 2022, the diocese says, while infant baptisms are down 27% since 2015-2016. In addition, funerals are down 10% and Catholic marriages are down 34% since 2015-2016.

In announcing the pastoral planning initiative, “Growing Disciples,” in August 2022, Tylka said he launched the plan “so that we can not only meet the ministry challenges of today, but we can also grow a vibrant, sustainable mission-driven Church for the future.” 

“We must recognize that in each successive generation, we are called to read the signs of the times and, entrusting our discipleship to the Holy Spirit, discern the path forward,” Tylka said at the time.

“Looking to the landscape which surrounds us, we see that year after year, the soil is tilled, planted, nurtured, and yields good fruit … Likewise, in the Church, we must do the necessary tasks which will yield an abundant harvest for the kingdom of God.”

The diocese’s reorganization plan to greatly reduce the number of parishes is reminiscent of those undertaken in numerous others in the U.S., including much larger ones such as Chicago, PittsburghSt. Louis, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. Many of those reorganizations — including the present one in Peoria — have been administered by the Pennsylvania-based Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) and consist of an extensive consultation process with parishioners and Catholic leaders. 

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The Peoria Diocese has become well known as the home diocese of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a renowned 20th-century Catholic bishop and televangelist whose sainthood cause has progressed in recent years. Sheen was ordained and first served as a priest in the Peoria Diocese.

After three years of legal battles, in 2019 the Archdiocese of New York, where Sheen was buried after his death in 1979, released Sheen’s body to the Diocese of Peoria, where he is now buried.

Tylka said the pastoral planning process aims to incorporate the “five foundations” outlined in his message for Easter 2022 — evangelization, the Eucharist, discipleship, vocations, and the legacy of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.