Plans have been settled; protests have faded. Now all that’s left for about 9,500 South Florida Catholics this weekend is to say goodbye to their houses of worship.
Sunday will bring the final Masses for 14 parishes, missions and other ministries in the Archdiocese of Miami, including eight in Broward County, that will merge with neighboring parishes. Archbishop John Favalora announced the church closings Aug. 16 as part of an effort to cut costs and respond to shifting demographics.
“Yes, it’s sad to finish like this,” said J.J. Lijeron, president of the Council of Catholic Women at St. Luke in Coconut Creek, which will merge with St. Vincent in Margate. “But we’re still among friends. And we can go on and make friends in another church.”
The archdiocese has posted a list of final events at the closing churches at miamiarch.org. They include picnics, dinners, dances and processions to the new parish homes.
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On Sunday, Auxiliary Bishop John Noonan will join the Rev. Bob Tywoniak for the last Mass at St. George parish in northwest Fort Lauderdale. Also attending will be Monsignor Laurence Conway, who founded St. George in 1964.
On Wednesday, there will be a procession from Divine Mercy Haitian Mission in Fort Lauderdale to St. Clement parish in Wilton Manors, two miles away. Favalora will join members of both parishes along with the Rev. Robes Charles, pastor of Divine Mercy and new pastor of St. Clement.
In completing the mergers, priests have been guided by an inch-thick manual created by the archdiocese.
“There have been 30 hours of things to do every day,” said the Rev. Thomas Pohto of Resurrection of Our Lord in Dania Beach, founded in February 1958 — six months before the Diocese of Miami itself was formed.
Although the last services will be ordinary Masses, the merger manual includes special prayers for the closing ceremonies, said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the archbishop. Finally, the priest will read a decree declaring that the building is no longer reserved for sacred use.
Most priests have been reassigned to other parishes, often as parochial vicars or assistant pastors. One exception is Pohto, who said his order, the Augustinian Fathers, will likely transfer him elsewhere in the United States.
Pastors at the receiving parishes have been asked to craft welcoming Masses for the first joint services Oct. 4. Favalora also has asked the churches to put up plaques or shrines in honor of the merging parishes, or perhaps rename chapels for them.
Agosta said Favalora “can certainly understand that some people are hurting. We hope they’ll find comfort in new parishes with fellow parishioners. The pastors are working to make the move as comfortable and caring as possible.”