Mercer County church to close

SHARON—Sacred Heart Church in Sharon, founded by mostly Irish immigrants in the latter half of the 19th century, has been closed according to a decree signed March 12 by Bishop Lawrence Persico.

Father Thomas Whitman, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Sharon, said that his parish finance and pastoral councils had voted in favor of requesting the bishop to close Sacred Heart, which was a secondary church of St. Joseph since their merger in February 2017. Sacred Heart discontinued the celebration of Sunday Masses at that time.

When a Catholic church is closed, the official verbiage used in the United States is that it will be “relegated to profane but not sordid use.” This phrase refers to the canon law process by which a bishop removes the blessing or consecration of a church building.

According to the bishop’s decree, the decision to close Sacred Heart was “the best possible means to provide for the care of souls for the faithful” of St. Joseph and the larger Catholic community of the Shenango Valley in Mercer County.

The decree cited security and debt as significant concerns facing Sacred Heart. The area in which the church is located has seen an increase in crime in recent years. In 2017, the rectory attached to the church was vandalized twice. Several fires in the vicinity were ruled as arson.

The merger of Sacred Heart and St. Joseph left St. Joseph Parish with “considerable debt that has further stretched St. Joseph Parish’s already-insufficient financial resources,” according to the decree.

Sacred Heart Church has undergone many changes since it was founded as a parish in 1864. In 1892, parishioners responded to their growing numbers by building a larger church, which remains standing today.

But demographic changes in the Shenango Valley took a toll on Sacred Heart. According to the decree, by 2010, the city of Sharon had lost almost half of its population since its peak in 1950. Of the 241 registered households that made up Sacred Heart prior to its merger with St. Joseph last year, only about 40 households re-registered as members of St. Joseph.

The members of both parish and finance councils at St. Joseph unanimously supported relegating Sacred Heart Church.

Click here to read the full decree