Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio Announces Decline in Population and Merger with Diocese of Columbus

The bishop of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton, made an merger announcement in their register. 

He wrote, another way to translate the phrase, “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” is “he fixed his face to go towards Jerusalem.” Jesus Christ knew what lay ahead for him in Jerusalem: his passion, his death and his resurrection. He would not be swayed from the obvious as others tried to persuade him to do the contrary.
It is with sadness of heart that I share with you the continued decline in the Ohio Valley population and how it adversely affects our future sustainability. Furthermore, we are all too aware how the population is aging as well, to our ministerial detriment. Here are a few statistics:
In 1990, approximately 24,730 people attended Sunday Mass in the diocese. In 2019, 13,700 attended Mass. That is a 45% decline. Even comparing figures from 2010-19 we realize there has been a 20% decline in those last nine years. It is not that helpful to employ numbers from 2020 and 2021 due the effects of the pandemic on church attendance. Our diocese has four deaneries, or regions, that compose our diocese. None of them has increased in number since 1990 or 2010. Since 1990, Mother of Hope Deanery has lost 34% of its Mass attendance, Presentation Deanery has lost 40%, Visitation has lost 38% and Nativity has lost 52%. The diocese has less than 30,000 Catholics while the next smallest diocese in Ohio is Youngstown with 146,000, and Cleveland being the largest at 633,000. As for our priests, we have six active priests 70 or older, 12 in their 60s, five in their 50s (six if we include me), four in their 40s, seven in their 30s and two in their 20s. If all priests in their 60s would stay in active ministry 10 years from now, half of our active priests will be 70 or older. One may ask: Is this not the case for many dioceses? We are more vulnerable due to the fact we are small in number, in priests and in Catholics.
At one time, the number of steel workers employed in the Steubenville city area numbered in the tens of thousands. Neither the steel nor the coal industries are of any significant economic asset today as they were decades ago. If local employment opportunities through the diocesan pastoral footprint are not declining, they are stagnant. They are at State of the Diocese replacement value at best. Maintaining decline is not an evangelization initiative, nor a goal.
In my discussion with the Ohio bishops, it appears a merging of the Diocese of Steubenville with the Diocese of Columbus would be the best solution. In fact, Steubenville was broken off of Columbus in 1944. There is concern about the effectiveness of our diocese in evangelization and celebration of the sacraments a decade from now. The apostolic nuncio and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been apprised of this situation. A survey is being prepared to share with you, the faithful, on how we move forward. Please take time to complete it. We are reminded that stubbornness and fortitude are not synonymous. Stubbornness serves self while fortitude, a virtue, serves Christ and his church. It is with fortitude that we address this sad reality head-on. While we have much to be grateful for in our Christian discipleship since 1944, we owe it to Our Lord Jesus Christ and the church to address this difficult reality. In a way, like Jesus Christ, we fix our faces toward Jerusalem, fully aware that following the passion and death leads to the resurrection. Stay holy; stay healthy; stay safe.