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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton touts community relevancy

Argues to stay open without priest ahead of reconfiguration

WARREN — Whether it’s collecting items throughout the year for the homeless and others in need, holding a chili cookoff to raise funds for the parish or providing a place for programs and services to be offered, members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Warren say their work is relevant.

This month, members of the congregation have been collecting socks and blankets as part of their outreach to help the homeless and also are preparing for a chili cookoff event open to the public.

Like many parishes in the Diocese of Youngstown, parishioners are concerned about a planned reconfiguration because of the limited number of priests and declining Mass attendance. The reconfiguration plan being worked on this year will look at how fewer priests can continue saying the same number of Masses, with the possibility some smaller parishes will close or merge with neighboring parishes as was done about 10 years ago.

Members of the parish said they understand how it is becoming more challenging for many churches in the Diocese to stay open with fewer priests.

Sal Ciferno, a parishioner, said Trumbull County parishes were broken last year into three tiers, which are the northern, southern and the city of Warren.

He said the city tier includes St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Blessed Sacrament, St. Mary and St. John Paul II. SS. Cyril and Methodius, and the St. James sites are part of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Ciferno said St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has not had a priest assigned to the parish for four years, but instead has an administrator, Deacon Bob Simmerly.

“Because of the priest shortage, the Diocese can’t assign a priest because they have none to put here. I read online there is one priest for every 2,000 Catholics nationwide” he said. “There is concern we are not looked at favorably because there is no priest assigned here. We are doing whatever we can to reach out to the community and survive.”

Jill Merolla, a parish member, said retired priests have come to the parish to say Masses.

She said the two church sites are used for Masses and are maintained. One Mass is held at each church site on Sundays, and efforts are being made to get a Saturday vigil Mass.

Ciferno said there is concern for the future of the parish, but with fundraising and contributions, the parish is financially solvent and has no debt.

“We are able to do many activities here. Our youth are very involved in community outreach, collecting clothing and food for those in need. We are fortunate to have many active teens,” said Beverly Kook, parish member.

Ciferno said a parish can survive without a priest.

Merolla said members are the ones helping keep the parish going.

“We are still able to do a lot as a parish,” Kook said.

A total of 575 families attend the parish.

The Rev. Steve Zanni of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Vienna is the pastor assigned to take care of pastoral needs at the church.

Members said a decision on reconfiguration is expected this summer.

Simmerly said projections show that by 2025, there will be less than 55 priests for 87 parishes in the Diocese.

“Something is going to have to be done,” he said.

Kook said the outreach the church does is needed in the local community.

Simmerly said about 50 families are helped by the local St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, which the parish helps by providing food, donations and volunteering. The parish also feeds families with their own food pantry and gives out food vouchers.

Parishioners said they are willing to make the changes needed to keep the parish open.

“We are working to take care of the congregation and those in our community. Deacon Simmerly has been an excellent leader here. Everyone in the parish is working together,” Ciferno said.

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