BELLEVILLE, IL (KFVS/AP) - Southern Illinois' Diocese of Belleville says five of its rural parishes will be consolidated with others.
The Belleville News-Democrat (http://bit.ly/1fMrVuU) reports that the closures take effect March 3. Bishop Edward Braxton says the closures resulted from "difficult decisions."
The affected parishes include St. Leo in Modoc, Immaculate Conception in Bridgeport, St. Catherine of Alexandria in Grand Chain, St. Mary in Mound City and St. Francis Xavier in St. Francisville.
According to George Bell, a trustee at St. Mary, there are a lot of people in the area that are of the Catholic faith, and the closings will affect the region greatly. St. Mary was founded in 1842. The last service is on February 23 at 11 a.m.
People from around the area will commemorate the church with a ceremony during their last service. After the reading of the gospel, churchgoers will read passages in memory of the church's long reign.
"We had roughly 50 members here every week and since the announcement of the closure, we have dwindled to only a couple dozen," Bell said. "The community is grieving. There have been tears shed, and we hope members will find a way to still find God without the building."
The next closest Catholic Church is in Cairo, Anna or Vienna.
Members of the St. Catherine Church in Grand Chain have formed the St. Catherine Preservation Society after hearing their parish was slated to close. Kevin Ulrich and other members want to keep the church open. Ulrich says parishioners are able to keep the building up to standards, and will take on ownership of funding all costs associated with the church.
In a letter sent to Bishop Braxton and the Dioceses of Belleville, Ulrich wrote, "It is our hope that The Most Reverend Bishop Braxton will not issue a decree relegating St. Catherine Church to profane, but not sordid use in accord with the provisions of Canon Law 1222."
Cannon Law 1222 states, if a church cannot be used in any way for divine worship and there is no possibility of repairing it, the diocesan bishop can relegate it to profane but not sordid use.
St. Catherine Church has around 25 members and is scheduled to close on February 22 after their last service. This church along with St. Mary's Church in Mound City are the last Catholic Churches in Pulaski County.
St. Catherine Church was built in 1896 and officially consecrated on August 10th, 1897 according to Ultich. If St. Catherine Church closes, Ulrich and the society plan to appeal and say they will take it to the Vatican if necessary.
The diocese's Very Rev. Eugene Wojcik says the diocese doesn't have the resources to meet all the needs of all the parishes, given that priests are aging. He says all five soon-to-close parishes were sharing a pastor with at least one other parish.
It's not immediately clear how many congregants attend the five churches.
Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com
Copyright 2014 KFVS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.