Antwerp's Catholic church.

PAULDING – Catholics along Route 49 in Paulding County will have to travel a bit farther to attend Mass after Divine Mercy Parish announced plans to close churches in Antwerp and Payne.

According to the announcement read at services this past weekend, October 30 will be the last weekend Mass held in Antwerp. Once closed, the Sunday Mass at 8:30 a.m. and the Tuesday Mass at 8 a.m. will both move to Paulding. All weekend Masses would then be celebrated in Paulding.

The plan then calls for Payne to be utilized until June 2023 before closing once Divine Mercy’s school year concludes. The school will remain open in Payne. While plans have not been finalized the Parish expects to utilize the fellowship hall/gymnasium for school Masses moving forward.

Several factors have led to these decisions but can be reduced to three principal factors: unsustainable maintenance expenses, declining attendance due to demographic shifts and finally, declining vocations in the Diocese of Toledo.

Many times, decisions to close parishes or churches comes from the diocese; however, this plan was developed internally over the course of the past year by the parish’s finance council, pastoral council, and an ad hoc long-term planning committee.

In recent years, Divine Mercy has spent nearly $1 million in capital maintenance, and another $2 million is needed for current repairs. All the while, the parish population has steadily declined at a rate unable to support the required maintenance spending into the future.

“Without a doubt, this transition will be intensely difficult for many of us. But, by it, we seek to be good, prudent stewards of our resources. Our hope is that this transition will allow us to devote more of our resources to our critical Catholic ministries as opposed to the overwhelming ongoing maintenance of all three campuses,” according to the announcement.

Parish business manager Diane Jones said six town halls were conduct last fall, and “suggestions included building a new campus, merging to one campus or staying on the same course.”

“It will not be possible for us to build an entirely new campus,” wrote Father Austin Ammanniti in a letter that will be sent to parishioners. “When considering the possibility of consolidating the entirety of our parish operations to Paulding, these three committees were in agreement that we would not be able to raise sufficient funds to move our school to the Paulding campus.”

The next step is for the Parish to formally seek approval from Bishop Daniel E. Thomas for the plan. Once the bishop gives approval, the church in Antwerp will remain vacant until the diocese decides its long-term future.

According to the Diocese of Toledo, this Petition of Regulation has not been received by the Diocese at this time.

A letter announcing the plan will be sent to all parish households, and text of the announcement will be available in the bulletin, on our website, and through Divine Mercy’s social media pages.

The parishes of Antwerp St. Mary’s and Payne John the Baptist merged with Paulding St. Joseph to form Divine Mercy Parish in 2008.