By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport may possibly lose another historic church congregation.
A year ago the Groveport Presbyterian Church, which had operated on College Street since 1853, closed due to decreasing membership and finances.
Now, the Catholic Diocese of Columbus is considering closing St. Mary Catholic Church, 5684 Groveport Road, as part of its Real Presence Real Future initiative that includes the potential consolidation of parishes. No decision has been made yet on whether St. Mary Catholic Church will close as the Real Presence Real Future initiative is still in its research phase
According to realpresencerealfuture.org, “Real Presence, Real Future is a two-year diocesan-wide consultative process that invites participation from clergy, lay ecclesial ministers, parish volunteers, and all the faithful. By listening to the needs of our people and hearing your ideas, concerns and desires, this process will help determine the best path forward to increase the presence of the Church throughout the Diocese of Columbus.”
The website states the initiative is considering people’s needs as well as the needs of the culture.
According to Jason Mays, director of communications with the Diocese of Columbus, more information about the program and its potential impact on St. Mary Catholic Church can be found at realpresencerealfuture.org and on a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F5RDjWznTw&feature=emb_title.
Per the video, attendance at mass in the entire diocese, which serves a mix of 105 urban, suburban, and rural parishes in central and southern Ohio, has dropped from 80,000 in 2008 to 48,500 in 2021. Information on the video indicates that decreasing attendance leads to fewer resources. The diocese has more priests retiring or passing away than there are new priests to replace them. Consolidation of parishes is one of the options the diocese is considering to address these issues.
Per information provided in the video, attendance at mass at St. Mary in Groveport has declined from 274 in 2019 to 192 in 2021.
One plan under consideration by the diocese is to consolidate St. Mary with St. John XXIII, which is located at 5170 Winchester Southern Road in Canal Winchester. Mass attendance at St. John XXIII has decreased as well, from 649 in 2019 to 456 in 2021.
The Real Presence, Real Future initiative is considering a variety of options for the diocese and the review and study of the situation is ongoing. Recommendations are pending.
St. Mary Church member speaks
“It’s devastating,” said Kathy Frank, a member of St. Mary Catholic Church since 1967, of the potential closure of her church.
She said the church fulfills a vital spiritual role in the community as well as a helping hand to those in need.
“We do a lot of community outreach that helps both the Groveport community and the Groveport Madison school district,” said Frank.
She said examples of the church’s community outreach include helping people in financial and material need under its St. Vincent DePaul program; providing assistance to the Groveport Food Pantry; and providing food to a homeless shelter in Columbus.
“If we’re not here, the community loses these vital services as well as others,” said Frank.
She said the church fosters a family, close knit atmosphere.
“We have generations who have attended here,” said Frank. “Our choir is small, but mighty, and it feels like if the church closes we’ll lose our choir family and our church family as everyone would most likely disperse elsewhere.”
Frank said a special feature of St. Mary is the Stations of the Cross located behind the church.
“It’s a comforting, beautiful place where people can go to contemplate regardless of their denomination. It’s very spiritual,” said Frank, who said the Stations of the Cross area is open during daytime hours.
She said church members are writing letters to Bishop Earl Fernandes in support of keeping St. Mary open. Bishop Fernandes will also attend a special service at the church on Aug. 15 at 5:30 p.m. that the public is invited to attend. A reception follows the service.
“We are banding together in support of our church,” said Frank. “We’re not going to give up.”
St. Mary first opened in 1871 in a small brick church on the southwest corner of Blacklick and Front streets in Groveport. The building was expanded in 1949 and the church served the community at that site until 1977 when a new (now current) church was built at 5684 Groveport Road.
A long time popular community event at the church is the smorgasbord, which began in 1951. Many people know the familiar red, white, and black sign that pops up in town announcing the event each year.
Visit groveportstmary.org for information on the church.