Slovenian community in US buys historic church

New York, 4 March - The Slovenian community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has bought the Slovenian-founded St. Joseph's church from the Catholic Diocese of Allentown. This is a step toward keeping the building that has served not only as a religious but also a social centre for the community.

Bethlehem, US
The Slovenian-founded St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Bethlehem, PA, US.
Photo: Robi PoredoŇ°/STA

Bethlehem, US
The Slovenian-founded St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Bethlehem, PA, US.
Photo: Robi PoredoŇ°/STA

Efforts against closing the church started in 2008, when the diocese decided to shut down the church alongside a number of others in the face of dwindling numbers of believers.

The community complained with the Vatican, which annulled the shut-down decree in 2011, while the diocese decided that services would be held in the church on the Feast of Saint Joseph and for funerals. Each year, the St. Joseph Day masses were also attended by Slovenian diplomats in the US.

The church was built by Slovenian immigrants who had gone from the region of Prekmurje to the US in search of a better life at the start of the 20th century. Funded by donations and erected on voluntary effort, the church opened its doors in 1914.

Now, it was bought by the newly-established Society of St. Joseph of Bethlehem (SSJB), a non-profit and charitable organisation. The society is to renovate and preserve the church as a sacral building and a historic and cultural heritage monument of southern Bethlehem.

They have reached an agreement with the diocese that masses will be held at least twice a year: on the Feast of Saint Joseph and on 28 October, the day when in 1914 the church was consecrated. Throughout the year, the church will be used by the community for private prayers and other activities.

St. Joseph's is only one of many churches in the US built by immigrant communities, mostly from Europe. These churches were not only religious but also social centres for their communities. But the communities have assimilated and the decreasing numbers of believers and priests have led to churches being shut down.

In an attempt to preserve their heritage, the most dedicated Catholic communities have now been opting to buy their churches from the Catholic Church.

A similar scenario could be in the cards for St. Cyril's in New York, where the Slovenian community recently established the Slovenian Society. But while St. Joseph's cost EUR 170,000, according to unofficial sources, St. Cyril, located in Manhattan, would be a much more expensive feat.

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