On July 4th, Reverend John Miller, the pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Oil City, announced that Our Lady Help of Christians has relegated to “profane but not sordid use.”
This announcement came after Bishop Lawrence Persico consulted with the diocesan priests’ council.
Our Lady Help of Christians was one of three remaining secondary churches in the St. Joseph Parish.
As part of the diocesan-wide pastoral planning process implemented back in 2017, Our Lady Help of Christians was merged into St. Joseph Parish at which time the church became a secondary church.
The technical designation refers to one canon law process by which a bishop removes the blessing on consecration of a church building.
Through out said process, the building ceases to be reserved for divine worship and therefore can be used for non-religious purposes.
The same process is described in England as reducing a church to secular but not unbecoming use.
The designation process is the result of a process that occurs when a pastor, along with the support of the parish finance council and the parish pastoral council, determines a church building can no longer be maintained for any of a variety of reasons and petitions the bishop to declare such.
A complete history of the church, as well as a detailed narrative of the current situation, is described in the decree announcing the bishop’s decision, and is available here.
According to the parish, Sunday masses have not been celebrated at Our Lady Help of Christian Church since early 2017.
The church has been used for occasional masses which ceased in early 2019. This church has also been used for six funerals and one baptism since the parish merged with St. Joseph Parish.
The diocesan pastoral planning process involving parishes completed in 2017 was designed to allow parishes to evaluate their own situations going forward.
This planning process also allowed parishes to make recommendations at the local level.
St. Joseph Parish is now the only remaining Catholic parish located in Oil City.
St. Stephen Church is also located in Oil City, but remains a secondary mission church of St. Joseph. This means that masses are still regularly celebrated there.
St. Venantius Church in Rouseville also remains a secondary church of the parish, but without mission status. This means that the church can be used for funerals, baptisms, weddings and private worship, as well as for Mass on the annual patronal feast day.