How to save a church

There is a 142 year old church in Dubuque, IA being closed.,0,4005982.story

It’s only one of a myriad old churches across the nation being closed and torn down. They’re not only beautiful centers of worship, but they’re also historical landmarks.

How can I fight to keep these places open? I’m perfectly willing to be a thorn in a diocese’s side, if need be.

Every time I hear of a church closing, especially if it’s an old church, I feel like it personally hurts me. ‘Why can’t they get rid of the ******-looking modern churches?’ I wonder. But it seems that there’s nothing I personally can do, as I’m just a 23 year old Master’s student.

Any pointers??


Why not try donating a yearly stipend that pays for the facility maintenance, groundkeeping, insurance, etc etc. fees each year?

I am sure that would be a good start.

The comment “Church officials said declining membership and increasing debt contributed to the recommendation to close the church” should be of constant concern to all parishes – not just once they are in trouble.

You can bet over the years that if parishioners and cleary made a stronger effort to evangelize and retain members and that if they gave more $$$ that there wouldn’t be any talk of closing.

I noticed two things. First 600 families – NOT a small parish by any means. Second, they lamented the fact that they were not allowed to hold certain “fundraisers.” Even though times are tough how about if they stepped-up with pledges that averaged out to say $1,000/family? Rather large by many Catholic standards. Peanuts by many Protestant standards – even when incomes are similar.

The talk was about “fundraising” and not simply giving more/tithing. Says a lot.

Talk is cheap.

Yes, but perhaps that number is misleading. Apparently 63% of parishioners are over 70 years old, with the membership dying off. The parish neighborhood is no longer Catholic, and 90% of the church members drive from outside the area to get to the church.

The church needs $2 million worth of repairs. I think that is what finally sank this particular church, and may speak to the OP’s concern about keeping old churches and letting the new ones go. Old buildings are expensive to maintain.

Don’t feel bad, they’re closing my church St.Mary’s with the last mass next June 2010. The church has a school and they’re leaving the school open. The situation is not financial as the church is more solvent then the school.

Are you merging with another catholic church? I understand that financial considerations are very good reason to close a church and mounting building repairs even more so. If less then half your congregation puts money in the collection each week as in my parish, the church is really struggling to meet it’s obligations and old marble and stone inlaid structures and leaky roofs can be terribly expensive to keep up.

It’s all about having faith and trust in the Lord. I don’t want to see my church close, after all I was baptized there, went to school there, it’s been my home for over 50 years. I can’t imagine not going to church on Sunday’s and not go to St.Mary’s. I don’t understand it and I keep telling myself you have to have faith, but its a terrible feeling.

I don’t think there is much you can do if the Bishop and your parish council has decided to close the church especially if there is a true financial issue. You can try and get some signatures together and petition the bishop.:slight_smile:

Many of these are legitimate reasons. Our church, built in the 1920s just spent $15,000 on 3 new furnaces, 2 in the church and one in the rectory, which were desperately needed. We are now having our steeple painted, the louvers in the bell tower replaced and the church tuckpointed, which had to be done in order to prevent moisture from ruining the interior walls, and it is costing us in excess of $35,000. Ourt of about 250 catholic families in my area, we have approx 100 active members and, of those, approx 60% give to the maintenance and general expenses. That comes to about $50,000 a year. We are taking up a special collection for the exterior renovation but have only raised about $20,000. Even if a church is on the “National Register of Historical Sites or Buildings” does not pay for the up keep of that building. It also doesn’t limit what the owner of that property (the diocese) can do with the site. It still costs money to maintain the building and grounds and, even if it isn’t in use everyday, things still have to be repaired and replaced.

Also, in order to keep these churches open you need Priests. One Priest for 4 parishes or more is not enough. People are no longer encouraging their young men to consider the priesthood and most of that is because of our warped idea of success. They have forgotten that fame and financial abundance does not make a person successful nor does it mean they will be happy.

The final decision about whether a church remains open or not is not made by the pastor nor the parish councils. Ultimately, it is the decision of the Bishop, made after a long period of prayer and gathering of information. It is not a decision that is made lightly. Many bishops agonize over it for several years, getting recommendations from many different people, within the diocese, as well as within the questioned parish itself. Don’t judge them too harshly, the chancery doesn’t want to have to close churches but sometimes they have no other choice. If you want things to change and our churches to stay open, evangelize their members, active and inactive, encourage lalpsed catholics back into their churches, and encourage everyone to support these parishes. Our priests can’t do everything and, since it is Christ’s Church, pray… but also be supportive of the Bishop when he has had to make this very difficult decision and try to make the transition as easy as possible.

It’s so sad. I hate seeing old, beautiful buildings torn down, but I agree that from a stewardship point of view, it’s much cheaper to maintain newer buildings.

I’m guessing that the die was cast decades ago, when the parish decided to put off fixing the roof, or repairing structural damage, or not replace the heating/cooling system–they probably felt that it was more important to use their offerings to help the poor, not realizing what this meant for their building. Who can condemn them for this? They made the decision that seemed proper at the time. And they didn’t know back then that their parish would decline in numbers and that those who remained in the parish would eventually become too old and poor to donate thousands of dollars for repairs and modernization.

I don’t think that the issue of your young age should stop you from doing the right thing. When I was in college, the old atmospheric theater in my college town was doomed to the wrecking ball. I wrote a very impassioned letter to the newspaper imploring the wealthy people and the corporations of the community to come forward and save this old, historic theater. I asked them to raise the monies and restore the building.

Well, lo and behold, they paid attention to my little letter! A community committee was formed, made up of artists, rich people, and CEOs. They toured the theater, decided that I was correct, and began work to restore it.

Today, the theater is a unique marvel–absolutely stunning, and is used for shows, concerts, movies, plays, lectures, etc.

It’s possible that if the church building is beautiful and of historic value , you could appeal to the wealthy and powerful in your community to save it.

However this approach is not necessarily what you want do to. We have an old parish in our city that the diocese rescued, and the city wanted it declared a Historic Site. But the bishop said NO! If a building is declared a historic site, the diocese no longer has control over it, and the building could be used for all kinds of activities, not necessarily Catholic. (E.g., the blasphemous play “The Last Temptation of Christ” was held in a church building in Michigan several years back. Apparently the director had an artistic “vision” that the church would be a good setting for this icky play.)

That old church building in our city is currently a perfect and beautiful setting for the TLM that is done daily and several times on Sundays by the ICK priests.

I think in your case, it’s worth a try to appeal to wealthy CATHOLICS in your diocese to save the building. Do you have a diocescan newspaper? Write a letter and plead with wealthy Catholics, CEOs, etc. to step forward and give the monies necessary to restore the building. If the building is restored and modernized and comfortable, it’s likely that it will attract people, and become a thriving parish once again.

Of course, if the bishop has already made the declaration, you are technically opposing him. However, you are young and enthusiastic, and surely can be forgiven for youthful actions like pleading with your elders to save the old building, as long as you don’t criticize the bishop! Perhaps the bishop himself will be touched by your appeal and decide to make a last-ditch effort to appeal to the wealthy Catholics!

Good luck to you.

I wish I had an answer, still praying for something to change by me. Part economy, part (at least by me) population chages. A poem;

Yellow X’s

A Church had yellow X’s on its doors
and four broken stained glass windows,
Demolition began on it today.
one third of the roof gone.

A woman on my bus had been crying
It may have been her Church
She left the bus two blocks later.
Did she have First Communion there,

Confirmation, or a wedding?
I remember the Church I came home in,
what will become of that place
this revert stumbled to learn in?

Just a building, I know
Though I remember two, now minor basilicas,
I used to favor as a child
If I ever see them again.

I wouldn’t want to see them demolished
Just a building, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Never far from my heart and thoughts
What did it look like inside?

I know it had to be done they say
I know we need chastisement
We need to come running to You Lord
Peace, be still, she looked at me

as if to say, "Don’t you see my pain?"
I do, but I know, lift my eyes up
to where my help comes from
Hope and healing

Were there names on the sides of pews?
Were there Bible stories in the windows?
How many worked hard to build it
and how quick can it be torn down?

We are the body of Christ
not the bricks of a Church
You will wipe away our tears
no more crying or sorrow

May my attachement be only to You,
To Jesus, through Mary, pressing on
Guide my steps, this journey
Have mercy on us all

I see my crucifix, the Divine Mercy image
I see my past, I see my search
Show me Jesus, help me stop fighting
Your yoke is easy and burden light.

You formed us in our mother’s wombs
yet how often have many fought You?
So many wonder what is happening
yet we need to keep seeking Your mercy


Piece by piece, bit by bit
I talked to a crew member today
As I tried understanding writing on a door
Even the workers face this task with sorrow.
Yes, there’s a temptation to scream STOP
But what can we do?
If people who left come back
Because of friends, family, ties etc
Will they miss these Churches of yesterday?
I still want to pray for my Church.
To hear its bells chime again.
I pick an odd time to come home
or maybe this was the exact time
God wanted for me in my life.


You could possible contact the local historical society and see if it can be designated a historic site. The restrictions on tearing down those buildings are greater. But the key word is to help raise money to keep these buidings viable.

I am from the same Archdiocese. THis is happening because of the Archdiocese itself. The liberal mindset that has a stronghold gong back to the mid 1970s is fianally showing its fruit. There simply are not enough priests and VOcations are abysmal and the anticlericalism that is present is pretty bad. The clergy shortage is mostly contrived with an agenda for feminist ideas. Lay empowerment has gone way way overboard and one would guess that more money goies into the archdiocesan Ecclesial Lay ministry formation program than vocations. If a young man is deemed too “conservative” he is booted by the “committee” and not allowed to continue seminary. I know this personally as I am from the Archdiocese. The churches are closing because of the lack of priests. SOmthing that is contrived by agenda driven individuals who are making satan jump up and down with joy.

I’m considering calling the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to let them know that there may be a gorgeous old church closing, a possible apostolate in a diocese hurting for tradition. Do you think this is a good idea?

Sure, I think it’s worth a try. At this point, anything you try without sinning is worth a try. Until the building is actually demolished, there’s still hope. I think that sounds like a fine idea.

Try ANYTHING (except sin). Don’t give up.

When I say, “without sinning,” I mean things like egging the bishop’s residence or standing outside your diocese office and shouting “Liberals!” These types of actions are sinful and probably wouldn’t do a lot of good.

At some point point, I probably would consider asking the city about declaring the building an historic site. Yes, it might be used for profane purposes and that’s a shame, but at least the building would still be there, a “sermon in stone” for many people. I believe that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in the building, even if it’s made into offices, coffee shops, and gift stores. And who knows? If revival someday comes to the Church, perhaps the building would be restored to its original use–wonderful!

I admire you for your zeal. Hope it all works out. Like I said, I hate seeing beautiful old buildings, especially churches, come down.

I did some research on this several years ago when our Oratory was put on the register. Just because it is on the register does not take ownership and control away from the diocese. They can still tear the building down if they want and they can control how it is used. The National Historical Registry also DOES NOT assist in the up keep or repairs of the building.

If you want your churches to stay open, start producing priests from your young men and start giving to the care of your parish. Start volunteering to do work on the grounds. When you get right down to it, the problem was created by the parisheoners. They have become selfish and greefy with a warped sense of what is important. We had better change our attitudes now before we loose any more of our parishes.

St. Mary’s is a pretty church. Three interior photos (I wish there were more) are viewable at:

You make two excellent points. For some that $1,000 is lunch money for a month for some while for others it’s two months rent they don’t have. Still Catholics simply don’t give like most of our Protestant brethern and it’s a problem.

Second, the condition of the physical plant. It took a long time to deteriorate into its current condition. Where were the cries years ago when planning, giving and fundraising was needed to ensure the place would have a tight roof, good painting and an operational boiler?

That’s also why I personally don’t care for a long of gingerbread and bric-a-brac inside and outside of churches. It makes them costly and difficult to maintain.

My parish just completed $2.3M of required building maintenance items. It was paid for by donations. About $1.75M from the estate of someone who passed away, the rest by everyone else. The local Mormons could likely have paid for it out of petty cash. Again, giving.

That’s very odd. I have seen a very strong recovery from that state in my parish/diocese since at least the Jubilee Year of 2000 – almost a decade.

My parish has had more vocations in the past 6-7 years then it ever has and it dates from the late 18th century…

It depends on the group. I personally have NEVER heard of a structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places being torn down unless it was unsafe and all avenues for repair funding was exhausted.

The Los Angeles Conservancy took Roger Cardinal Mahony to court and prevented him from demolishing Saint Vibiana’s once and for all.

It’s too bad there is so much deferred maintenance. I would suggest a serious group contact the bishop and offer to create a non profit 501©3 profit corporation to repair, administer and own the church. If the group was successful in raising the funds needed for repair, if they received their 501©3 status and if they had a real plan for going forward I cannot imagine the bishop not deeding them the land.

Then again that’s a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice…

A number of church closings/mergers will be taking place over the next year in the diocese where I live. Many of the parishes that are closing are located in poor inner city neighborhoods where few of the residents are Catholic and the churches are not being financially supported. Many were built to serve an immigrant population many, many, many decades ago. As residents moved to the suburbs the congregations lessened and the old churches lost parishioners and financial support. High maintenance, priest shortage, etc have led to the necessary closings due to the need to consolidate resources and serve the more populated areas. Sad as many serve as a community outreach in poor neighborhoods. When the closings/mergers were announced many appealled to the bishop and 2 or 3 parishes won their appeals - with stipulations. Others are appealing to the Vatican, I hear. Rumor has it that one parish is breaking away all together. I find it very sad that so many of these beautiful churches are to be closed and the new buildings don’t compare in the way of beauty and character. As others have said, it is the people that are important, not the buildings.

I did run across a website of a company that purchases stained glass windows, alters, artifacts, etc from old churches - restores them and sells to congregations building new churches. The pics of the restorations were amazing and it is so good to see that some of the beautiful work of the old artisans is being preserved and brought to new life.

Try to have it registered as a historical landmark.

A town I know, Ft. Madison, IA, (diocese of Davenport, I believe) has gone from 3 parishes to 1 (that still, for now has 2 Churches). It isn’t a matter of the people being too greedy to support their parish, it’s a matter of demographics. Like many small towns, Ft. Madison has lost population, especially youth. Multiply that over a few generations and that’s quite a few missing people at Mass.

Add to that that when they closed St. Joseph’s, they lost a lot of people who used to go to St. Joseph’s. From my observation, that happens every time a Church is closed. I don’t know if its people more wedded to the church structure and the memories contained therein than to their Catholic faith or what.

Then you’ve got the great falling away of people of all faiths which hasn’t spared any place.

On the other hand, in some of the far flung Chicago 'burbs, I’ve seen new Catholic Churches going up. Hopefully these are built for ease of maintenance so the whole cycle doesn’t repeat in 50 years or so.

A few comments about giving:

  1. From what I’ve seen, Catholics DO give generously, but they prefer to give to charitable causes to help the poor and unfortunate. If they passed the hat in our parish for upkeep of the building, there would be dollar bills in the hat, but if they passed the hat to help the poor, the hat would be overflowing with tens and twenties. There seems to be a perception that it’s not as “Christian” to pay for air conditioning and termite inspections as to pay for food and other needs for the poor.

  2. I grew up evangelical Protestant, and I think that many Catholics have a distorted idea of how much evangelicals give. We used to say that 10% of the people in the church give all the money! (I’ve heard Catholics say the same thing about Catholic parishes.) There are a lot of evangelicals who never give anything, or who give only a few dollars. The ones who tithe and double or triple tithe make up for them.

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