St. Stephen Catholic Church will close in August 2017. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Archdiocese of San Antonio announced Wednesday the closing of St. Stephen Catholic Church on the city’s Westside. The church’s final Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller on Aug. 6.

The decision was made following more than three years of collaboration with priests in neighboring parishes.

Factors that prompted the closure include the low number of registered parishioners and some structural and maintenance concerns that could have financial impacts on members of the parish. Parishioners learned of the closure in a special meeting on June 28.

“Although this is a very sad time for the parishioners of St. Stephen’s, I have always been very impressed that, during the time of discernment regarding the future of the parish, the people there have always wanted to do what is best for the church; how to help the church grow,” the Archbishop said in a press release. “The parishioners of St. Stephen’s can take great pride in their proud history.”

One of the archdiocese’s major considerations was to insure the pastoral care and the availability of sacraments for parishioners.

“It is currently planned that boundaries of St. Stephen’s Church will be incorporated into Immaculate Conception Parish, which is located nearby at 314 Merida Street,” the release stated.

These spiritual needs will be met by at least five other Catholic parishes, all within a few minutes’ drive from St. Stephen: St. Alphonsus on South Zarzamora Street, St. Timothy on Saltillo Street, the Shrine of San Juan de los Lagos on El Paso Street, Our Lady of the Angels on Stonewall, and St. John Berchmans Church on Cupples Road.

St. Stephen was erected on the former St. John Berchman’s grounds in 1965.

St. Stephen’s prayer garden features an Our Lady of Lourdes shrine. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The closing recommendation was approved by of the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council. A presbyteral council acts like a senate of the bishop and assists the bishop in the governance of the diocese. Final authority remains with the bishop.

Closings and consolidations of Catholic parishes have become more frequent in recent years across the country. Less than two months ago, the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., announced the reduction of its 212 parishes down to 127. The process will involve consolidating anywhere from two to six parishes into single parishes.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Association of Catholic Priests expressed alarm over the “emerging crisis.” In a working draft of a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the priests note that:

  • 30% of U.S. Catholics have left the church
  • Church marriages have declined 60% since 1980
  • “Apart from Hispanic members,” Catholic total membership is declining

In many dioceses throughout the country, a shortage of Catholic priests has been cited as one reason parishes are closing.

Thomas Tobin, the Bishop of Hartford who ordered the closings and consolidations there earlier this year, disagrees.  In a June 22 interview, Tobin said the churches were not closing due to a lack of priests, but because “people have disappeared,” and too many churches and buildings are in terrible condition.

San Antonio has not experienced any shortage of priests that would necessitate closing parishes, according to a pastor in one of San Antonio’s inner-city parishes.

Edward Speed holds a Master of Arts in Systematic Theology from St. Mary's University. He reports on religion and spirituality for the Rivard Report.