Portage County Catholics Heard The Very Reverend David Bonnar, Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown on Tuesday, with many seeing him in person for the first time since his appointment almost a year ago.
The rally, which took place at the Overlook in Franklin Township, was part of the Dinner and doctrine series sponsored by the Portage County Deanery, a group of Catholic parishes in Portage County. Bonnar oversees the Diocese of Youngstown, which comprises six counties, including the 10 parishes of Portage County. He was installed in January to succeed the Very Reverend George Murry, who died last June after a battle with cancer.
Bonnar said the date of the gathering was “forever etched in my heart” as it fell on the first anniversary of his appointment as bishop.
“I couldn’t believe that the Holy Father was calling on me, a pastor, to do his very important work,” he said.
Bonnar said he had only visited two parishes in Portage County since his installation in January, and told the large crowd he was “humbled by all of you who have come here tonight.”
His speech was titled “The Changing Face of the Parish” and he acknowledged that many parishes have closed their schools, merged or have a priest who also oversees another parish. In response to a question from an audience member, he added that “canon law” requires that no priest say more than three Masses in a single day, and eight priests of Portage exceed this limit at a time. .
In Portage County, only three parishes – Immaculate Conception in Ravenna, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Aurora and Saint Joan of Arc, have a priest who does not serve elsewhere. In Kent, the Reverend Richard Pentello oversees both St. Patrick and the University Parish Newman Center; Reverend Zachary Coulter oversees both Saint-Joseph à Mogadore and Saint-Pierre des Champs; and the Reverend Edward Stafford oversees three parishes of C St. Joseph in Mantua, St. Ambrose in Garrettsville, and St. Michael in Windham. Saint-Michel is no longer an active parish and moved to “oratory” status in 2019, which means that it is only open for special masses and prayer services.
“You have to be adaptable,” Bonnar told the group. “It’s not about the survival of the fittest, but the survival of the adaptable.”
He said parishes should be mission oriented, stay in close contact with people, and called on members to come out and evangelize. It, he said, can be as simple as inviting someone to mass or offering to say a prayer with them.
“The ministry is not meant to be hoarded or possessed,” he said. “It’s made to be shared.”
The Diocese of Youngstown is one of 87 “mission dioceses” and has received over $ 1 million in support from the Catholic Extension Society over the past 10 years for programs and ministries.
He proposed six strategies for making the church more mission oriented. They included an increased effort to move from maintenance to mission; “Go to the peripheries” and “be the church where there is no church”, and think of the church not as a building but as a “community called to action”.
He said it’s also important to have a “greater sense of support,” which he defined as walking with people they may disagree with. He told the story of a former employee of the parish where he served, whose son attended a religious event in a skirt. Bonnar said he emailed the man and asked him for his child’s new name, so he could use it as a sign of “respect and dignity.”
“While I don’t understand this reality, I cannot deny the fact that this troubled person is a child of God,” he said.
He also called on Catholics to engage in “continuous conversion” and embrace the future, rather than looking to nostalgia for the past.
This month, he said, two church buildings in Campbell, Mahoning County, will be close. Parishes, he said, merged years ago under Murry’s leadership, but have alternated in their old parish buildings to accommodate people from each congregation. This turned out to be unworkable, and the congregation will now have only one place of worship. Two of the parish buildings will close and a third will remain open as a banquet center. There is “resistance” to the movement, Bonnar acknowledged.
“For too long we have viewed our parishes as buildings,” he said.
After her speech, Bonnar answered questions from members of the congregation, including one from a woman opposed to children wearing masks at school.
Bonnar said the church “takes the safety of those in our care seriously,” and met with public health officials, who have encouraged masks because the Delta variant of COVID-19 is more contagious than the original virus.
“Our children are not yet vaccinated,” he said. He said the matter will be revisited once the infection numbers “get to where they need to be”.
Journalist Diane Smith, who has reported on many stories of Catholic churches over the years although not of Catholic descent, can be reached at [email protected]