FREMONT -- The Catholic Diocese of Toledo's Parish Realignment plan takes effect July 1, so most of the 17 parishes slated to close have already held their final masses. Thursday night, parishioners bid farewell to St. Casimir church in Fremont.
The 90-year-old building was packed with about 250 of the faithful. Clara Wesolek was one of them. She was born just a few months before the church's cornerstone was laid in 1915, and was in a baby carriage in the crowd on August 2, 1915 when then Bishop Joseph Schrembs blessed St. Casimir's cornerstone. "This church has been my life. I lived in the neighborhood. When the church bell rang, we were here for everything. It's a time of extreme sadness for me," said Clara.
Other members, however, understand Bishop Leonard Blair's reasoning for closing and consolidating parishes across the 19 county diocese. "The priest shortage is too dire. There are not enough priests. It's an unfortunate decision. The bishop has taken a lot of heat for it. Really he had very few options," said parishioner John Gfoeller.
John added that what he could have done is keep all the parishes open and stretch the priests beyond their strength and ability and wear them out and burn them out."
Other parishioners still remain disillusioned about the closing of the only church many of them have ever known. "I am bitter about it. We had a lot of money in the bank. We all knew each other, helped each other and loved each other," said Lorraine Petonke.
The sadness climaxed as pastor Father Robert Weithman stripped the altar of its candles and linens one last time. Parishioners were then invited to line up and kiss a special crucifix used at Good Friday masses. The faithful then filed out the front door, and Fr. Weithman then locked the door for the final time. A black cloth was then draped over the locked door signaling closure.
Parishioners enjoyed a farewell dinner in the church basement where artifacts found in the church's cornerstone time capsule were opened and displayed.
St. Casimir members will join St. Ann and St. Joseph parishes in Fremont. "I will miss it tremendously. But somehow maybe something good will come out of this. One of these days we'll find out, said Clara Wesolek"
"A parish is the people not the building. These people have given me a tremendous amount of love," said John Gfoeller.
"We must accept what has happened to us. Go on and still stay faithful Christians. What else can we do?" said Lorraine Petonke.