Declining attendance, lack of priests causes churches to close - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Declining attendance, lack of priests causes churches to close

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HAMILTON COUNTY, Ill. -- Parishioners belonging to two Catholic Churches in Hamilton County had to find another place to attend Sunday mass this week after the Diocese of Belleville closed their doors. 

Rita Rapp from Belle Rive, right outside of Dahlgren, has been a member of St. John Nepomucene Parish for nearly 40 years. 

Rapp tells News 3's Emily Manley about the effect these closings are having on their church community. 

"It was the most heartbreaking thing I have ever witnessed," Rapp said. "I think a lot of people were caught off guard."

This week the Diocese closed St. John Nepomucene in Dahlgren and St. Clement of Rome Parish in McLeansboro because of declining attendance. 

"There's not a lot of opportunities for jobs in this area, so a lot of people have moved away and family sizes were bigger too," Rapp said. 

St. John Nepomucene, St. Clement of Rome and St. John the Baptist in Piopolis are within 20 miles of each other. 

The Diocese saw the declining number of parishioners and priests and the distance as reasons to close the churches. 

"We knew that two were going to close in Hamilton County, we just didn't know which ones," Rapp said. "Those two would be considered chapels for the time being and could only be used for weddings and funerals."

Rapp says St. John Nepomucene Parish had about 100 families. 

"We were a thriving parish," Rapp said. "We had lots of young child and young families."

Bishop Edward K. Braxton from the Diocese sent a letter to the churches explaining St. John Nepomucene and St. Clement of Rome would become chapels, while the "Mother church" would be St. John the Baptist in Piopolis. 

"It really caused a lot of friction between the three churches because everyone wanted to be the one to stay open," Rapp said. 

Rapp says now all she has is the memories of the church she has called home for nearly four decades. 

"If you love your church, have your butt in it on Sundays," Rapp said. 

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