Amateur Local History Corner: Historical Context for Catholic Parishes Closings

I started reading the newspaper articles related to the parish closings in Cleveland, assuming that, as recent history, Cleveland and the country was basically the same.

I was wrong.

The diocese announced which parishes were closing in early spring 2009.  This is the heart of the Great Recession.  Financial uncertainty was a reality.  The stock market had collapsed, people were losing their jobs, and they had little realistic prospect of finding new ones.

In Cleveland, the housing market had been depressed for a long time.  In a way, we never had the bubble; we just skipped right to the collapse.  Cleveland’s economic state was so poor, we were even declared the poorest city in the country.

In the past ten years, this has changed.  The stock market has recovered, if the middle class has not.  Cleveland is also improved economically.  Young professionals flock downtown to live, and pay large sums of money to do so.  My college friends, who have not been to Cleveland in years, would be shocked to see sections of Cleveland now.  (For example, I went to a party on the east bank of The Flats last night.  None of the buildings on the East bank even existed 5 years ago!)

I think it is essential to remember the fact that the Catholic Diocese closed parishes during a time of great economic uncertainty within Cleveland and the US in general.  This was not intentional; the cluster parishes, which prepared for the closings, were started two years before in 207 (1).  But I think this clearly made the closings far more contentious.

We see this emerge almost immediately.  In one of the first articles about the closings, Michael O’Malley quotes Carole Romansky of Berea, who said, “The suburbs are isolated from the poor.  Would Jesus have stayed in the suburbs?” (1) She was a parishioner of St. Colman, which was noted for its extensive neighborhood outreach.   For example, St. Colman supported neighborhood dinners and an apartment for women who were recovering from alcoholism. (2) They recognized that their neighbors would be hurt at the very moment they could least afford to be hurt.

Footnotes

1 O’Malley, Michael.  “Cleveland Catholic Diocese Announces Church Closures,” Cleveland Plain Dealer March 15th, 2009.  

2 Smith, Robert L.  “St. Colman priest to parishioners: Do you want to keep our church open?” Cleveland Plain Dealer March 17th, 2009.  

 

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