As the St. Pius X Catholic Church held its last mass Sunday after more than 53 years in the Baton Rouge Diocese, there was a feeling of peace knowing a vibrant group will continue worshiping there and carrying on their faith, said Pastor Frank Bass.
The Diocese's Hispanic Apostolate Ministry, which has shared facilities with St. Pius, held its First Communion mass hours later— and there were more second-graders receiving that sacrament than there were attendees at the St. Pius mass.
"Sunday was amazing," Bass said. "Even as our time is over … it was a just a beautiful thing to see. (They had) a full church."
The Diocese officially closed St. Pius X Wednesday, incorporating that parish into St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, just four miles away in Baker. However the Hispanic Apostolate, which has been sharing the building and sanctuary on Hooper Road with St. Pius, will continue to worship there. Bass has been pastor at St. Isidore and St. Pius churches for the past six years and will continue to serve as pastor at St. Isidore.
As the Hispanic congregation has continued to grow, St. Pius' parishioners got older, many moved away, attendance slowly shrank — all hurting the financial stability of the church. And when almost 80 percent of its members were hit by the August flood, Bass said, that was the final push.
“Very reluctantly, the diocese said, what else is there we can do?" Bass said Wednesday as the office staff worked to switch over keys and utilities. "We are blessed that it has not happened more in the diocese. Of course everyone is sad, but no one was surprised."
The decision came as the Diocese looked at financial resources, changing demographics and future pastoral considerations, according to the Diocesan Media Representative Kelly Alexander.
"The decision was made through prayer by Diocesan Bishop Robert W. Muench after several months of intense study, deliberation and consultation with St. Pius’ pastor, parish and finance councils, its trustees and the Diocesan Presbyteral Council, which consists of member priests of the diocese," Alexander wrote in a news release.
The Rev. Thomas C. Ranzino, V.G., the Vicar General of the Diocese of Baton Rouge said the hope is that the old grounds of St. Pius X will become a home for the Hispanic Apostolate.
"This ministry is an appropriate and fruitful way for this property to continue its history as a home for the church and a place where Christ is met," Raninzo said.
St. Pius X was the first round church in the Baton Rouge region when it was completed in 1965. The design allowed everyone to feel close to the priest and the Lord, giving it a special "intimate" feel, said St. Pius parishioner Debbie Orsot.
“It’s just a wonderful warm parish. I don’t know if we’ll ever get that somewhere else," Orsot said, who also worked part-time as the church's secretary. She plans to attend St. Patrick Catholic Church, also in Baton Rouge, she said.
As the parish moves to St. Isidore, Bass assured members that all the candles, statues and faith symbols in St. Pius, will move on to St. Isidore with them, as many of those items were dedicated for family members and lost loved ones, he said.
"Those memories won't be lost," Bass said.
St. Pius' volunteer organizations, including their Knights of Columbus, held a last supper Saturday to celebrate their community, sharing smoked chicken and cole slaw with members who were involved with the church over the last 50 years — some founding members and some from years past, Bass said.
"We had over 300 people, folks who had been, many of them, gone for years," Bass said. “St. Pius Church, when you see them gathered at worship, it really looks like the worldwide Catholic Church. … They've been amazing."
The last weekend fell on the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, when the apostles thought the Lord was going away, Bass said, but this coming weekend, when parishioners will find a new church or join him at St. Isidore, it will be the Feast of Pentecost.
“Just how appropriate that the very next week came Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit and the gathering of the church together," Bass said. "That’s going to be our first Sunday together as one congregation, St. Pius and St. Isidore … That’s a comfort to us all.”