The Flint Journal reports:
Parishioners at three northern Flint churches reacted with gasps and tears when they learned this morning that their churches will close by Aug. 1.
"I was married here and I hoped I'd be buried here," said Gary Debevec of Flushing, who attends St. Agnes Catholic Church on Pierson Road.
"I guess that's not going to happen now. This is breaking up a family."
St. Agnes, Saint Luke and Sacred Heart Catholic churches will close, and their parishes will merge with St. John Vianney Catholic Church to form a new community at St. John's, on Bagley Street in Flint, Bishop Earl Boyea announced Friday in a letter to the local church leaders.
The announcement surprised many, as it came prior to the completion of a diocese-wide study that that will determine the fate of 97 parishes in a 10-county area that includes Genesee and Shiawassee counties.
The study's recommendations are still under review, and should be ready for the bishop's consideration by the end of this month, said Michael Diebold, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.
"But announcements are being made now at some parishes, because some sites just can't wait," Diebold said.
The bishop explained in his letter that the Flint church closings were announced early due to "a particular urgency," caused by "declining parish membership and increasing financial strain which, if not responded to, would create further hardship for the parishes involved."
The news follows an announcement Friday that DuKette Catholic School, on the St. Agnes Church campus, also will close before fall. Children at DuKette will be invited to attend St. John Vianney School, the bishop said.
The North End Soup Kitchen, located at Sacred Heart, the North End Women's (NEW) Life Center, at St. Luke's, and Cornerstone Outreach Ministry, at St. Agnes, will remain open, he added.
According to the Lansing diocese, mass attendance at St. Agnes has dropped by 59.3 percent since 1995. St. Luke's attendance decreased by 49.6 percent, Sacred Heart's by 27.5 percent and St. John Vianney's by 31.9 percent during the same time.
Population shifts from the city to the suburbs account for most of the decline. Many of those who remain at the inner city churches now commute from the suburbs.
Mary Andrykovich drives from her Swartz Creek home to attend masses and events at St. Agnes because "I was raised in this church and was married here and this is like my family."
While Bishop Boyea said the new parish configuration "holds great promise for a strengthened and renewed Catholic presence in the city," some of St. Agnes's loyal parishioners said they would attend churches closer to their homes before considering attending St. John's.
"They can't make us go to St. John's," said a St. Agnes member who didn't want to be named. "I come here because I have a history here and I love the people. But I don't know anyone at St. John's. There are lots of churches closer to where I live."
Another parishioner complained that the closings are coming too quickly.
"August is way too fast to allow these older people time to make the change," he said. "It's not right to kick them out."
But some said they understood the need to act quickly.
"When the bills outweigh the money coming in, you've got to do something," one parishioner said.
Others, while wiping away tears, said they realized that the church is a body of believers, not a building.
"This is sad, but we're going to be OK," said Chris Gardner, of Flint, a St. Agnes parishioner who has been praying for years "for God's will to be done" in the declining parish.
"Whatever happens, God is in this," Gardner said. "We have to remember that it's the people that matter, not where we worship."