The Archdiocese of New Orleans has announced the “difficult and painful decision” to consolidate 11 parish communities, permanently close seven churches, and consolidate three territories in the coming months to ensure sustainability and vitality.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond made the announcement in an Oct. 29 letter that was read at every Mass at all parishes in the archdiocese last weekend.
This consolidation plan will close 10% of the archdiocese’s 111 parishes and is its largest restructuring plan since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the archdiocese merged 40 parishes and closed 27 of its churches.
The New Orleans Archdiocese began an official pastoral planning process more than a year ago to evaluate the challenges the archdiocese was facing due to declining enrollment numbers and many factors out of its control — natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes over the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges of Hurricane Ida recovery, inflation, and skyrocketing property insurance rates.
Aymond said the consolidation followed an intense period of discernment using data on the sacramental, pastoral programming and the realities of each parish’s unique situation. Pastors, lay parish leadership, and parishioners were invited into dialogue to determine how to address the challenges facing them.
“These are difficult and painful decisions for everyone involved,” Aymond said in his letter to the faithful. “When I returned home to New Orleans in 2009, I never imagined I would be in the situation of having to merge parishes. This is something we must do for the good of the local Church, and something that is being done in Catholic dioceses around the country.”
“I have prayed about this a great deal and have spoken with many trusted advisers and truly believe the Holy Spirit is leading us for the good of the people of God in the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” he added.
Two parishes, Our Lady of Divine Providence in Metairie and Christ the King in Terrytown, have made significant progress in addressing and planning for their challenges over the past year and will remain open, the archdiocese announced.
There are four instances where two parishes are merging into one, and one instance where three parishes are merging into one:
- Our Lady of the Angels Church in Waggaman will merge with St. Bonaventure Church in Avondale to become one new parish with a new name.
- St. Gertrude the Great Church in Des Allemands and St. John the Baptist Church in Paradis will merge to become one new parish with a new name.
- St. John Bosco Church and St. Rosalie Church, both in Harvey, will become one parish with a new name.
- St. Mary of the Angels Church and Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, both in New Orleans, will come together as one new parish with a new name.
- Transfiguration of the Lord Church, St. James Major Church, and St. Gabriel Church in New Orleans will merge as one new parish with a new name.
In two instances, the parish territory will be merged into neighboring parishes:
- St. Theresa of Avila Church in New Orleans will close. It will have its territory divided and merged into St. Patrick Church on Camp Street in the Warehouse District and St. Alphonsus Church on Constance Street in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans. St. Theresa of Avila Church celebrated its 175th anniversary this year.
- St. Hubert Church in Garyville, which will be merged into St. Peter Church in Reserve. St. Hubert Church will remain open for one Mass each weekend.
All of the mergers will be effective beginning July 1, 2024.
Understandably, reactions to the news of the closures and consolidations have been marked by many emotions.
Former Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, a longtime lector at St. James Major Church in Gentilly, attended the vigil Mass on Oct. 28. In a report by Nola.com, he said parishioners were saddened by the announcement, as the church has been in existence for over 100 years.
“It was not good news,” he said. “It was not a joyous day.”
Chad Sherman, a parish council member of St. John Bosco Church, said in the Nola.com report that that he attended two weekend Masses at his parish and another at St. Rosalie Parish last weekend to see the reaction of parishioners upon the announcement of the merger.
He said he is disappointed, as both parishes have known for months that their finances were under scrutiny and have been trying to come up with a plan. He wishes they had been given more time.
“But in some ways, I think this is a new beginning and how we deal with it will be up to the people,” Sherman said.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2020 in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal, faces the settlement of 500 sex abuse claims with the potential to cost the archdiocese more than $100 million. In a Sept. 8 letter, Aymond wrote that “parishes, schools, and ministries” will be asked for monetary contributions to protect their assets during the bankruptcy proceedings.
Aymond concluded by asking for prayer for these communities as they move through this time of transition. “Let us pray, too, for all of us as a local Church, may the Holy Spirit continue to guide each of us as we strive for holiness, seek a deeper encounter with Christ each day and witness with joy in our parish life.”