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JUNCTION, Ohio - More than 25 members of a rural Catholic parish closed by Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair in July blocked the doors of their former church yesterday to prevent workers from removing its stained-glass windows.
"We're trying to find some way just to prolong the inevitable," said Sue Brown, 58, a lifelong member of St. Mary Catholic Church.
Two employees of Klimo Inc., a Cleveland-based construction and restoration company, arrived yesterday morning at the small Paulding County church, about 70 miles southwest of Toledo, with a truck and trailer and orders to remove St. Mary's tabernacle and stained-glass windows.
Ginny Hull, who has been battling the diocese over the closure of her parish, St. James in Kansas, Ohio, raced over to Junction, about 80 miles west of her hometown, to try to help the parishioners.
"There were about 25 or 30 people here," she said. "I asked them, 'You want them to do this?' When they said no, I asked the workers, 'What would you do if we all stood on the steps and blocked the doors?' They said, 'I guess we'd leave.' So that's what we did."
The workers "were very nice" and left without incident, according to Ms. Hull and Ms. Brown.
Colleen Buckman, a spokesman for the Toledo diocese, said church officials are "following standard procedure with all closed parishes." That procedure is to hire professionals to evaluate the items in the church and then to photograph, measure, crate, and remove anything of value, she said. Most of the items are then placed in storage.
The stained-glass windows and tabernacle from St. Mary's are considered sacred objects and will be preserved "for future use and only for sacred use," Ms. Buckman said.
Each diocese decides which objects are considered sacred, but in Toledo the list includes stained-glass windows, Ms. Buckman said. The sacred items removed from closed parishes are made available to other churches within the diocese, and after that to churches in other dioceses that have endured a tragedy, such as damage from fire or flood.
St. Mary's was founded as a parish in 1846, and the cornerstone for the present building was laid in 1907.
Ms. Brown said the church has approximately 27 stained-glass windows, all featuring Bible scenes, that were installed during the 1907 construction. Some of the windows are as large as 6 feet wide and 15 feet tall, she said.
"They are beautiful; they are priceless," Ms. Brown said. "Everybody who steps into the church comments on the stained-glass windows."
Ms. Buckman said the diocese will go ahead with its plans to remove the windows and place them in storage, although after yesterday's incident she said there is no timetable for the process.
Asked if the diocese would seek help from area law enforcement officials to enter St. Mary's, Ms. Buckman said, "We really hope it doesn't come to that. We think this can be resolved."
St. Mary's had about 200 members when it was marked for closure in July, 2005, as part of the diocese's plan to shutter 17 churches and merge 16 others to form six new parishes. Bishop Blair said the changes were necessary because of shifting demographics and a shortage of priests.
The bishop later agreed to keep St. Mary's open as a chapel for two years but ordered it closed in July. The closings and realignments have cut the number of parishes in the 19-county diocese from 157 in 2005 to 131 today.
Members of St. James in Kansas, where Ms. Hull was a parishioner, and Holy Rosary in East Toledo appealed the closures to the Vatican, which upheld the bishop's decision. St. James' parishioners held a prayer vigil 24/7 in the church hoping the bishop would change his mind but in March, 2006, the diocese sent a maintenance man to the Seneca County church to change the locks on the doors.
Members of Kansas St. James and St. Joseph Parish in Wyandot County have filed lawsuits against the diocese seeking control of parish assets.
Ms. Brown said St. Mary's parishioners hope the diocese will delay removal of the windows until those lawsuits are settled, but added: "It's probably a futile attempt."
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