Manayunk parish community offers alternative to proposed consolidation plan

Parishioners from three of the five Catholic parishes in Manayunk met privately on Sunday evening at St. Mary of the Assumption’s Horner Hall to talk about the proposed parish consolidation in Manayunk and come up with a counter-proposal. 

While all the five parishes affected by the proposed consolidation were invited to the town hall meeting, parishioners from St. Josaphat, St. Mary of the Assumption, and St. Lucy were in attendance. Members of St. Bridget in East Falls were also in attendance, but mainly focused on the school merger.

“It was delightful being in the company of the people of God,” said Rev. Charles Zlock, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church. “It’s their church and it was wonderful to see them take charge of it.”

The town hall meeting was organized and led by Gus Concilio, director of operations for St. Mary’s. According to Zlock, the town hall meeting grew organically out of meetings held earlier in the year.

“This was a listening session, a feedback session,” said Concilio.  Members of the press were asked to leave and wait until the meeting was over to ask questions. 

The Manayunk community was abuzz late last year about the consolidation of Catholic parishes in the neighborhood. Many expressed their outrage and disappointment at the plan that would have forced the parishioners of St. Lucy’s and St. Mary’s to attend Holy Family Church on Hermitage Street and the parishioners of St. Josaphat to attend St. John The Baptist Church on Rector Street in Manayunk. Because of their historical significance, it is unlikely that these churches would be torn down. According to the Archdiocese, the closed churches would still be used for funerals and special events, such as weddings.

The plan was to have originally been finished by the end of December 2011 but the outcry from the parishes was so strong that the Archdiocese postponed the final decision until mid-March.

“Archbishop Chaput has given us until Feb. 9 to send him our feedback,” said Zlock. “Hopefully, he and his committee will take our advice but a final decision will come out in the middle of March and everything will be completed by June 30.”

According to Zlock, the Parish Council of St. Mary’s will meet on Feb. 1 to polish the proposals from this meeting and present them to the Archdiocese. The main counter-proposal is to merge the three ethnic parishes (St. Josaphat, St. Mary’s and St. Lucy’s) together into one entity.

“We have been working with the other parishes to find a commonality,” said Concilio. “We are all in agreement that there are too many churches and not enough people.”

The two main themes of the counter-proposal have been viability and parking/safety issues. Concilio believes that merging the three ethnic parishes makes more sense because it works economically. One of the biggest criticisms of the original consolidation plan from the Archdiocese was that it was a marriage of unequals. While St. John The Baptist is oft regarded as ‘Manayunk’s Cathedral’ and has a rich history, it’s maintenance costs have been cause for concern. Also because of its location, St. John’s, like much of the neighborhood, has serious parking issues.

“Older ladies are not going to park too far away and walk to the church and back to their cars,” said Concilio.

If the decision is made to merge the three ethnic parishes together, a committee of those parishes would work together to decide which church would be the home of the new parish. Despite the enormity of the changes before them, many attendees remained upbeat.

“I think something good is going to bubble up from this,” said Zlock.

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