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On Sunday, when Bishop Leonard Blair announced the most sweeping changes in the history of the Toledo diocese - closing 17 of 157 parishes and creating four new ones by merging 12 others - he said it was "not so much an end, but only the first step in preparing ourselves to face the future."
More steps already are being taken, as the bishop has asked members of newly renovated St. Joseph's Church on Locust Street to consider moving to nearby St. Francis de Sales, which he closed as a parish but kept open as a chapel.
"I am asking that during the next 12 months you study the possibility of transferring your congregation to the St. Francis de Sales church building, our former cathedral," Bishop Blair said in a letter to the congregation.
The bishop's epistle was read from the pulpit during last weekend's Masses by the Rev. Stephen Majoros, pastor of St. Joseph's since 1994.
"I don't care for it," said parishioner Charles Lais. "I've been going here for 76 years. I was born and baptized here. We just spent more than $300,000 on renovation."
Attendance at St. Joseph's has been growing steadily, with about 500 participating in weekend Masses, Father Majoros said in an interview in his office this week.
The church is a magnet for Catholics throughout the region who seek to participate in a more traditional liturgy, such as Frances McKenzie, who covered her head with a scarf before entering the sanctuary for Wednesday morning Mass.
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Regina Mauder, of West Toledo, attended the weekday Mass with her exuberant 21-month-old daughter, Maria.
"I come because it's more traditional," said Mrs. Mauder. "And I like that Father Majoros offers frequent confessions - before and after most Masses."
The tall, professorial priest with the sonorous voice, who grew up in St. Stephen's Parish in East Toledo "in the shadow of Tony Packo's," said there is a desire among many Catholics for tradition.
"I'm meeting people where they are, not where I think they should be," Father Majoros said.
Six times a month, Mass is celebrated in Latin at St. Joseph's, following the Tridentine Rite, which was codified in the 16th century and was prevalent until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Since Vatican II, the Tridentine Rite is celebrated only with permission of the local bishop. Father Majoros said the late Bishop James Hoffman granted him permission to celebrate the Tridentine Rite and that Bishop Blair, installed in December, 2003, has not changed that policy.
"You'd be surprised at the number of families with preschool children who come to the Latin Masses," Father Majoros said. "They drive from Swanton, Findlay, Fayette, Lyons. They tell me they come because they are attracted by the way we celebrate Mass."
The church recently completed a four-year renovation, including installing new boilers and air conditioning, expanding the parking lot, and repainting the altar and sanctuary.
"We would not have done it had we known," Father Majoros said, referring to the possible move to St. Francis.
Ironically, St. Joseph was created as a spin-off of St. Francis de Sales to give French-speaking Catholics their own church.
St. Francis, which was built in 1841 when Toledo was part of the Cleveland diocese, grew so rapidly that it "made it almost impossible for the church to accommodate all the people for Sunday Mass," according to a history of St. Joseph's published on its 100th anniversary.
German Catholics were the first to split off from St. Francis, forming St. Mary's Parish downtown in 1854. Later that year, French Catholics established St. Joseph's as the third Catholic church in the city.
Now the church might close and the congregation return to St. Francis, which served as the first cathedral of the Toledo diocese from the time the diocese was created in 1910 until Rosary Cathedral opened on Collingwood Boulevard in 1940.
In his letter to St. Joseph parishioners, Bishop Blair said he hopes to restore St. Francis' special status in the diocese.
"For many years, St. Francis de Sales was designated as a special center of Eucharistic adoration for the diocese," he wrote, "and it would be very good to revive that designation with your help and participation."
Sally Oberski, director of communications for the diocese, said details have not been determined yet, but that Bishop Blair "wants to give St. Francis a place of honor because it was Toledo's first cathedral."
Father Majoros said that while "everything is in a state of flux right now," transferring the parish would be a major challenge, not just for him, but for the whole congregation.
In Sunday's announcement of the restructurings, Bishop Blair said St. Francis would be closed as a parish but the building would remain open as a chapel, assigned to St. Joseph. There was no mention of the parish possibly being transferred.
After Mass at St. Francis Church on Sunday, parishoners were saddened by the news.
Sal and Diane Garcia, both 53, who were married at Saint Francis and have attended services there for about 25 years, traveled from Grand Rapids, Ohio, to attend Sunday Mass. "It's sad that it had to happen," Mr. Garcia said.
Chris Jagodzinski, 24, of Toledo, said he would feel better if he knew why the parish was closing. He said answers provided by Bishop Blair and others have been insufficient for him. "I'm not happy with the bishop right now," Mr. Jagodzinski said.
The parish closings, which followed recommendations from a diocesan panel that had spent 3 1/2 years studying statistics, directly affects 51 parishes in the 19-county diocese, many of which will be "twinned," sharing a pastor with another parish.
The parish changes will require numerous priest reassignments, which the bishop is now studying, Ms. Oberski said.
One of the primary factors behind the closings is the sharp drop in the number of diocesan priests. Projections show that the number of priests available to serve in the diocese is likely to drop from 114 in 2003 to 84 in 2012. Another reason given for the closings is shifting population patterns among parishes, many of whose boundaries were drawn during the horse-and-buggy days.
Blade staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.
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