Noreen Foti of the Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation, center, stands on the steps outside the church Tuesday while announcing the formation of a new group planning to take action against the closing of diocese churches.Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE – Noreen Foti stood atop the steps outside Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Church on Tuesday, three days after hearing Bishop Joseph Martino say it will close along with about half the other churches in Luzerne County, and announced the formation of a new group she hopes will reverse that decision.
Foti – who has spearheaded efforts to save Sacred Heart – rattled off statistics from other diocese nationwide: Boston saw about 25 percent of its churches closed; Camden expects one-third to be closed; New Orleans saw less than 10 percent close. Under the final decision announced by Martino at weekend Masses, nearly half of the churches in the 11-county Scranton Diocese will close, Foti said.
“We are here today to announce the formation of the Council of Parishes of the Diocese of Scranton to coordinate our efforts to stop these unprecedented closings,” Foti said to about 25 supporters. “We urge any parishioner adversely affected by the closing of their church to attend an organizational meeting,” Thursday at 8 p.m., at the North End Slovak Citizens Club on 635 N. Main St. in Wilkes-Barre.
Foti also urged parishioners to write “promptly and respectfully” to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, D.C., the Most Rev. Pietro Sambi. The Nuncio is the pope’s representative in the United States.
She said a member of her group recently met with Cardinal Josef Tomko in the Vatican in Rome. She said Tomko is expected to visit the Diocese of Allentown and that members of her group intend to be there.
Foti and her husband formed the Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation in an effort to save the century-old church built by The Rev. Joseph Murgas, who did many paintings in the building and who merited a state historic marker outside the church for his pioneering work in overland wireless telegraphy.
Martino has issued an official notice that the foundation has no affiliation with the diocese or Sacred Heart Church, which will consolidate with St. Stanislaus nearby under the new plans.
Foti repeated her group’s contention that Sacred Heart remains viable, with 2,800 registered parishioners, raising more than $500,000 annually, “ranking it in the top 15 percent of all parishes in the diocese.” She said she believes there are other, similarly viable churches that are being closed unnecessarily.
After Foti’s announcement, John Dinis spoke passionately of his more than 80 years in the church, from his baptism to the present.
“I lived here by the school for 45 years. If they needed anything, they call John Dinis. I served at all the Masses, I climbed the bell tower to grease the bearings and change motors,” he said. “I can’t understand why they want to close it.”