Diocese: Window Sale 'Unrelated' to Consolidation

By Mike Faher
The Tribune-Democrat
July 29, 2008

With an engineering study now complete, parishioners soon will have a chance to give their opinions on the planned merger of five Johnstown churches.

But even as that announcement was made Monday, a new controversy illustrated how sensitive and emotional the Cambria City consolidation will be.

St. Columba is selling some of its stained-glass window, causing some to suspect that church leaders were forecasting that facility’s demise.
Photo by John Rucosky

Responding to the news that St. Columba is selling some of its stained-glass windows, some suspected that church leaders were forecasting that facility's demise.

Diocesan officials insist that no decisions have been made on which of the five churches will serve as the neighborhood's consolidated worship site.

"The St. Columba sale of stained-glass windows is unrelated to the merger process," said Rob Egan, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

"St. Columba has had an issue with the windows for a long time with regard to leakage, cleaning and need for repair."

The diocese has said St. Columba and four other Cambria City parishes – Immaculate Conception, St. Rochus, St. Stephen and SS. Casimir and Emerich – will become one parish in July 2009.

An engineering study focusing on those churches' structural soundness, capacities and other characteristics is complete, Egan said Monday, but he said he could not disclose the study's results.

Last week, a group of diocesan officials, Cambria City pastors and parish representatives reviewed that study and discussed the merger.

Members of that group are "still working together to develop a consensus concerning which church building will become the worship site for the newly merged parish," diocesan officials said in a statement.

In August, parishioners will receive a "brief questionnaire" allowing them to weigh in on the consolidation.

Details of that survey were not available Monday.

"The pastors, lay parish representatives and diocesan officials will also be addressing other issues related to the merger and plan to meet on a regular basis," the statement said.

In the meantime, a community organization called Save Our Steeples is working to keep the churches open or, if the diocese does not change course, to preserve the historic church buildings and their contents.

Word of the St. Columba window sale alarmed Marie Mock, a member of that church and a leader of the Save Our Steeples group.

"This is what we don't want to happen," Mock said. "At least give us a chance to figure out what to do before the sales agreements are drawn up."

Egan sought to assuage concerns, saying the window deal "in no way should be construed as a sign that St. Columba will not be chosen as the worship site for Cambria City.

"The parish was approached by a company interested in purchasing the windows several months ago," he said.

"Because the parish doesn't have the resources to make the necessary repairs, it explored this alternative."


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