That represents 14 percent of the total number of parishes — 108 — in the Diocese.
Most Rev. Earl Fernandes, bishop of Columbus, has been leading a process within the Diocese over the last two years to determine how best to restructure the Diocese for future success. The process, called “Real Presence, Real Future,” even features video discussions with His Excellency posted on the diocesan Youtube Channel.
Bishop Fernandes has shown a real interest in engaging with his clergy and the faithful of the Diocese. It seems that this engagement prompted him to reduce the number of closures from the 19 that the commission recommended to 15.
But naturally, closing churches and merging parishes isn’t a sign that a diocese is the picture of health. Indeed, in one of those videos, about the annual moving of clergy, Bishop Fernandes says that the Diocese has 12 priests who are over 70, and nearing retirement. According to the numbers published on the Diocese of Columbus website as of June 15, 2023* Columbus has 147 priests in total. And of those 147 priests, due to recruitment efforts to counteract a priest shortage, 21 percent are from outside the U.S.
By contrast, the Diocese of Steubenville has never recruited diocesan priests from overseas. And as I reported back in November of 2022, the priest-to-faithful ratio in Steubenville is more than twice as good as that in Columbus:
The Diocese of Steubenville covers 13 counties along the eastern and southeastern edge of Ohio. In those thirteen counties there are about 496,000 persons, 29,000-30,000 of whom are Catholics. They are served by 36 priests. (Source)
This means a priest-to-Catholic ratio of 1:805, with a priest-to-citizen ratio of 1:13,777.
That’s one priest for every 805 Catholics, and one priest to every 13,777 souls in the Diocese.
Columbus, on the other hand, covers 23 counties in central and southern Ohio. In those 23 counties are about 2.5 million persons (as of 2006, the most recent number I could find), about 278,000 of whom are Catholic. They are served by 147 priests. (Source) That means Columbus has a priests-to-Catholic ratio of 1:1,891, and a priest-to-citizen ratio of 1:17,007
So one priest for every 1,891 Catholics, and one priest to every 17,007 souls in the Diocese.
I’ve lived in the Diocese of Steubenville since 2008. I know that Bishop R. Daniel Conlon closed some parishes before I moved to town, but there have been very few closures that I am aware of since then. There have been a few, but certainly nothing on the scale of closing 14 percent of our parishes.
All this together suggests that, should the Diocese of Steubenville be merged into the Diocese of Columbus, there is no way we in Steubenville will not see our homegrown priests moved elsewhere in the sprawling Diocese of Columbus, and we very likely will see parishes closed and merged.
This does not suggest a positive way forward for the faithful of Steubenville.
*For reasons known only to the Communications team in the Diocese of Columbus,** the url that previously showed “Diocesan Information” now redirects to their “History” page. Fortunately, the Internet Archive shows the page as it once was for long enough for me to get the below screen captures.
**I contacted the Diocese of Columbus about this and was informed that the page is down temporarily while they update the information. I’m looking forward to those numbers being available publicly once again.