The Diocese of Davenport is considering closing — officials call it merging — St. Mary's Catholic Church, the 4th oldest Catholic church in Davenport.
The Rev. Chris Young, pastor of St. Mary's, told a meeting of about 20 parish leaders on Wednesday of a diocesan recommendation to close their church at 6th and Fillmore streets in west Davenport on June 30, 2020.
The reason, Young said in an interview Friday, "is directly related to the priest shortage that will be even more severe in another two or three years with quite a few impending retirements."
Because there are 13 Catholic parishes within a 15-minute drive in the Quad-Cities, including some in Illinois, the diocese sees a need to reallocate clergy so that there is geographic balance, Young said.
Deacon David Montgomery, director of communications for the diocese, said in a news release issued Friday under Bishop Thomas Zinkula's name that "at this point, no decision has been made" regarding St. Mary's.
He confirmed that the bishop is considering merging the parish, but it has been a "miscommunication, clearly" that closing is definite.
"The bishop wants to hear input from the people," Montgomery said. "We are in the process of setting up meetings. We have to explore all these questions, but we don't have answers to that yet."
St. Mary's became a parish in 1875, and the church cornerstone was laid on July 21, 1867. Some members of the parish who helped with the actual laying of bricks had served in the Civil War, Young said.
St. Mary's is just two blocks west of the former St. Joseph's parish, the third oldest Catholic church in Davenport, that closed July 1, 1999. It now is part of the campus of One-Eighty, a nonprofit Christian group that helps people turn their lives around.
The reason that two Catholic churches were built in such close proximity is that St. Joe's was mainly Germans and St. Mary's was mainly Irish, as immigrants liked to stick together, Young explained.
Nowadays, St. Mary's has evolved into a different demographic, with a majority Hispanic congregation, Young said. Two other groups within the parish are those who favor the traditional Latin Mass and the legacy members left from the early days.
Although St. Mary's is the third-smallest parish in the Davenport deanery (a geographic area used in church governance), it is in good shape financially and attendance is increasing, Young said.
"This is not about a declining parish," he said. "We are a stable and growing parish." Attendance is growing in the Spanish, Latin and bi-lingual Masses, with an average Sunday attendance of 550-600 among four services.
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"Financial giving has been increasing because families have been joining. St. Mary's is paid up on all its bills — vendors, utilities, the diocese — and we have increased support to our schools," he said, referring to Assumption High School and All-Saints elementary school.
"We have almost three months' of expenses in our checking account and we have a professionally managed portfolio of investments that we can use for major emergencies.
"All these buildings are functional and we are in compliance with all regulations."
The campus includes a Gothic-style church with a 135-foot steeple, a former school used as a parish center, a former convent used as parish offices and the rectory where Young lives. A shrine to Mary and a storage shed also stand on the property.
The major buildings were all reshingled in 2017 as part of a diocesan insurance settlement after a storm caused damage to numerous churches. The roof work permit for St. Mary's was for $742,832.
The campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Reaction to the diocesan recommendation announced at Wednesday's meeting ran the gamut, Young said. "There was sorrow and surprise. Some expressed disagreement. Some said it was a long time coming. Some said, 'It's a relief.'"
Young said he would walk with his people through their sadness.
"In a way, it's almost like a death in the family, so I'm going to offer grief support," he said.
But, he added, "There's hope in this situation. God always brings hope out of what appears to be very bad. These people are strong. They are strong in their love for the Lord and each other."
In April, leaders of St. John Vianney and Our Lady of Lourdes, both of Bettendorf, discussed the possibility of merging.