FINDLAY - Hancock County's only Roman Catholic parish has scaled back a $22 million plan to build a school, offices, and what would have been the largest local church in the Toledo Diocese.
At this weekend's eight Masses, the Rev. Michael Hohenbrink, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Findlay, announced that the parish would not build a church and school on 80 acres it bought last year just southeast of town. Instead, Father Hohenbrink said, a church and middle school would be built at the 17-acre site on Sutton Place that is now home to the parish's too-small church and primary school.
Cost estimates for the revamped project, which include renovating St. Michael's downtown church, run between $14 million and $15 million.
“Over and over again at neighborhood meetings, committee meetings, and meetings with individuals, I have heard the words `too much, too big, where is all the money coming from?'” Father Hohenbrink said in his presentation.
Since it began fund-raising efforts for the project in 1998, St. Michael's has obtained $7.1 million in pledges. So far, it has spent $2.2 million, including $1.4 million to buy the land for the proposed parish center and about $800,000 on a new rectory, a boiler for the downtown church, architectural fees, and fund-raising costs.
Father Hohenbrink, who came to the Findlay parish in July, has spent four months meeting with parishioners in 30 neighborhood meetings and with numerous groups within the parish to discuss the building project and other issues of concern to members.
He said again and again that the consensus of the people is that the $22 million plan was too ambitious.
The parish had hoped to raise the money over five years and do the construction in phases, beginning with a new 1,500-seat church and later a K-8 school.
“If we were to build on a new site, we could end up with three sites for a long period of time because it would take another fund drive to build the primary school,” Father Hohenbrink told parishioners. “This, I believe, could possibly create an insurmountable financial problem for the parish. Three sites could devastate the operational budget.”
Currently, the parish is split between two sites: Downtown on West Main Cross Street, St. Michael's has a church, middle school for grades 4-8, and parish offices; on Sutton Place on the city's east side, the parish has a newer, 750-seat church and an elementary school for pre-kindergarten through third grade.
Building at the existing east side site means construction on a church can get under way possibly within a year, Father Hohenbrink said. Under the old plan, construction would not have gotten started for at least three years.
Aggie Hempfling, business manager for the parish and a member of the committee that recommended purchasing the 80 acres last year, said the thought at that time was to look at the parish's space needs for the next 20 to 50 years.
“That was really one of the driving thoughts,” she said. “They thought we'd have more flexibility, more options if we bought a site with more land.”
St. Michael's - the second largest parish in the diocese - has been growing steadily for the last century. It now has 3,000 families or about 9,000 members. For more than 10 years, the parish has been trying to determine how to address its space problems.
The Rev. Michael Billian, chancellor of the Toledo Diocese, said Father Hohenbrink was pegged for the job in Findlay in part because of what he was able to accomplish at his last parish, St. Catherine of Siena on Toledo's north side. There, he helped the parish tackle financial problems and then build a community center.
“I think he's in the building spirit,” Father Billian said. “He's very good at that.”
Father Hohenbrink said he obtained the approval of Bishop James Hoffman before making his decision public.
That is standard procedure in the case of major projects, Father Billian said.
“Really, we rely on the local pastor to make these decisions in consultation with his leadership groups in the parish,” Father Billian said. “It's their church and their community under the leadership of their pastor.”
Findlay Mayor John Stozich, who is a longtime member of St. Michael's, said he thinks Father Hohenbrink made the right decision.
“I think more people are going to be happy,” Mr. Stozich said. “No matter what you do, some people are going to be unhappy with you.”
The 80 acres St. Michael's bought is just southeast of the city in Marion Township. Mr. Stozich said the city extended water and sewer lines close to the site, but the church would have had to apply for annexation and pay for installation of a line from the site to meet those lines.
The land now most likely will be sold, Father Hohenbrink told parishioners.