Hughes Signs Church Closings

By Bruce Nolan
The Times-Picayune
July 11, 2008

Archbishop Alfred Hughes has signed documents formally closing 18 Catholic parishes around the New Orleans area, a watershed event in the post-Katrina reorganization of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

As expected, many are in the most-damaged communities of St. Bernard and Orleans parishes. Because their churches were wrecked and parishioners scattered, normal parish life ceased after Aug. 29, 2005, in 10 of the 18 communities. Hughes' so-called letters of suppression, signed July 3, formally closed them, said Sarah Comiskey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

In addition, two university-based parishes were closed and downgraded to campus ministries; two other parishes were closed and downgraded to missions. In a slight departure from the reorganization plan, Hughes closed St. Leo the Great parish in Gentilly so it could reopen with a new name, "St. Raymond and St. Leo the Great," a reflection of its merger with neighboring St. Raymond Parish, which also was closed.

Parishioners of the new blended community asked for that step, Comiskey said.

The decrees represent the first wave of closings -- and the least contested ones -- in a broad reorganization announced in April. The archdiocese expects ultimately to close about 33 parishes in mergers, downgrades or other arrangements in response to storm damage and a chronic shortage of priests.

At least four parishes marked for closure are fiercely contesting Hughes' plan, and they aren't included in this week's list.

Comiskey said all those named in the first wave have been through an archdiocesan transition process in which lay leaders of closing parishes and host parishes formulated plans for their blended communities.

The archdiocese expects that members of parishes to be closed will schedule their final Masses during August. Comiskey said the time, place and celebrants of those Masses are up to parishioners. In many cases, for example, in parishes where worship life had been suspended, parishioners could ask their last pastor to celebrate the final service, she said.

The closures will take effect at the time of the final Masses, she said.

The permanent closures will be announced to parishioners at Masses this weekend. Comiskey said the archdiocese had hoped that parishioners would hear the news first from local pulpits, but the Archdiocesan newspaper, the Clarion Herald, reported the closures in newspapers dispatched Thursday to more than 100 parishes for distribution this weekend. The Times-Picayune acquired a copy Thursday.

Bruce Nolan can be reached at or 504.826.3344.


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