Columbus diocese to close 15 Catholic churches amid declining attendance. Here's the list

The Catholic Diocese of Columbus announced Thursday morning that it intends to close 15 churches, including nine churches in Franklin County. One school in the county will close as well.

The move comes amid a nationwide decline in church attendance and a shortage of priests, and after two years of consultations among clergy and parishioners within the diocese. A commission recommended 19 of the diocese’s 108 parishes for closure in August last year. However, Bishop Earl Fernandes, who heads the 23-county diocese, announced on Thursday his final decision to close only 15 churches.

More: Amid church closures, Bishop Earl Fernandes emphasizes new Catholic diocese

More: 'Inevitable:' Columbus parishioners react to Catholic diocese closing 9 churches in city

May 25, 2023; Columbus, OH, USA; Bishop Earl Fernandes has announced the closing of 15 churches in the Columbus Diocese. He spoke with the Dispatch Thursday at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Columbus.  Mandatory Credit: Doral Chenoweth-The Columbus Dispatch

Which churches are slated for closure?

The churches in Columbus slated to close are: Corpus Christi Church and St. Ladislas Church on the South Side; Holy Rosary/ St. John Church on the Near East Side; Parroquia Santa Cruz on the North Side; St. Philip the Apostle on the East Side; Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on the Southeast Side; and St. Matthias Church and St. Anthony Church on the Northeast Side. St. Anthony School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade institution on the Northeast Side, is set to shutter at the end of this school year.

Other churches in the diocese that will close are: St. Mary Church in Groveport in Franklin County; St. Mark Church in Lancaster in Fairfield County; St. Mary Church in Bremen, Fairfield County; St. Francis de Sales in Newcomerstown, Tuscarawas County; Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Glenmont, Holmes County; Church of Atonement in Crooksville, Perry County; and St. Bernard Church in Corning, Perry County.

On Columbus’ South Side, the Corpus Christi Church and St. Ladislas Church are due to close on July 1. A schedule for the other churches’ closures has not yet been announced.

"When you say the word 'closure,' people think the bishop's about to walk up with a padlock — but that's not what's going to happen," said Jason Mays, a diocese spokesperson. "The pastors who take over (for closing parishes) have to get to know their communities. … None of these things happen quickly."

Several of the churches closing in Columbus have significant African and Latin American congregations. Corpus Christi and Parroquia Santa Cruz offer Spanish masses, while St. Matthias is popular among the Haitian, Nigerian, and Brazilian communities. Our Lady of Miraculous Medal serves many French-speaking Africans.

Why is the Catholic diocese shuttering these parishes?

Fernandes acknowledged that the new changes will be difficult for many parishioners in an interview with The Dispatch Thursday afternoon, saying, "There will be a grieving process."

"People remember the church where they made their first communion or where they got married or they said goodbye to a loved one," he said. "(But) sometimes the vine has to be pruned back a little bit for something new to grow."

The Catholic Church has been closing parishes across the country as the number of men willing to work as priests decreases and attendance dwindles.

A 'right-sizing' of the church: Is Columbus the only place Catholic parishes are closing?

The number of Catholic priests in the U.S. has dropped 42% over the past half-century, according to Georgetown University researchers. The U.S. Catholic population has grown modestly from around 71.1 million in 2000 to around 73.5 million in 2022, but the percentage of Catholics who say they are a “member” of a church dropped by nearly 20 points during roughly the same period.

The Columbus diocese has dealt with the priest shortage in part by recruiting foreign priests from countries where shortages are less acute. As The Dispatch reported earlier this month, 21% of the Columbus diocese’s clergymen are originally from outside the U.S., including Mexico, India, Poland, Nigeria, Great Britain and 19 other countries. Many of these priests serve through religious orders like the Dominicans, Franciscans and others.

More: Amidst shortage, foreign priests a lifeline to Columbus Catholic Diocese

A merger between the Columbus diocese and its neighbor to the east, the Steubenville diocese, was proposed in October last year in order to deal with both dioceses’ shrinkage. However, that initiative was paused after negative feedback from parishioners.

More: Possible merger between Steubenville and Columbus dioceses to be discussed among bishops

Sister Wilma Ross prays during Mass on Oct. 29, 2018 at St. Ladislas Church on the South Side. On Thursday, the Catholic Diocese of Columbus announced it is closing 15 parishes, including St. Ladislas, because of dwindling attendance and a priest shortage.

Original plan called for the shuttering of 19 parishes

The Real Presence Real Future initiative, which began within the Columbus diocese in 2021, collected over 30,000 pieces of feedback from parishioners and clergy alike, according to the diocese. Its commission recommended 19 parishes for closure last year.

But several churches proposed for closure escaped the chopping block. Holy Name on Columbus' North Side; St. Aloysius Church on Columbus' West Side; St. Thomas the Apostle on Columbus' East Side; St. Leonard Catholic Church in Heath in Licking County; Holy Trinity of Zoar in Bolivar in Tuscarawas County; and Immaculate Conception in Dennison in Tuscarawas County will all remain open.

In addition to the announced closures, other churches will undergo administrative restructuring. For example, Holy Cross Church and St. Joseph Cathedral, both in Downtown Columbus, will formally merge into a single parish with one head pastor. So will Sacred Heart and St. John the Baptist on the North Side, and St. Joan of Arc and St. Peter on the Far North Side.

More: 5 things to know: Columbus Catholic bishop-elect Earl Fernandes

Criticism over departure of Paulist priests at Ohio State's St. Thomas More Newman Center

Bishop Earl Fernandes speaks to parishioners during Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Columbus on Feb. 22.

Fernandes received criticism from parishioners at St. Thomas More Newman Center in the University District after its longtime Paulist fathers — missionary priests — left the diocese last summer. Many parishioners viewed the bishop as pushing the Paulist fathers out for being LBTQ-friendly, but the diocese claimed that the Paulist fathers chose to leave the diocese themselves. Four Paulist fathers left the diocese, and the pastor of the church was replaced by a diocesan priest.

Speaking to The Dispatch, Fernandes said the Paulist fathers' departure had nothing to do with LGBTQ issues and that the diocese has made up for their loss in the months since by gaining new priests from other orders.

"(Today) should not be a sad day in the Diocese of Columbus. Rather, we're setting sail. It's going to be an adventure," he said. "I'm optimistic."

RPRF Final Results - May 2023 by The Columbus Dispatch on Scribd

Dispatch reporters Cole Behrens and Jack Nimesheim contributed to this report.

Peter Gill covers immigration, New American communities and religion for The Dispatch in partnership with Report for America. You can support work like his with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America at:


This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Catholic diocese to lose 15 churches in bishop's closure plan