Church may close due to shortage of Catholic priests

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A Catholic church that has served a town for almost 150 years may have to be closed – because of a national shortage of priests.

St Francis de Sales in Wolverton was built to cater for Catholic families who came to the town after the opening of the railway works.

But now, following an instruction by the Bishop to reduce the number of priests in Milton Keynes from six to four, a question marks hangs over the future of the tiny building.

Diocese spokesman Rev Paul Hardy said: “We have been told we must lose two priests. They will probably move to areas elsewhere in the country where there are simply not enough priests to cope.

“The problem is that there is a national shortage. Not enough young men are entering the priesthood and it is becoming a major problem.”

Father Paul said there are not yet any concrete plans to close St Francis de Sales, which has a congregation of 50 people.

He said: “The Bishop has asked us to reconsider the future of any building not fit for purpose due to its size.

“We’ve said if the lack of priests means a church needs to be closed, then Wolverton is the obvious candidate.”

The congregation would be merged with that of St Mary Magdalene Church in Stony Stratford.

Both churches already share the same priest, Father Bernard Barrett.

But parishioners, many of whom have been attending the church for decades, are not happy. Said Father Paul: “Obviously people are concerned and there have been letters of protest written to the Diocese.

“But there is nothing we can do. It is entirely in the hands of the Bishop, who will make the final decisions.”

Most city priests already have two churches under their care. Problems stem from the fact that any priest is only to hold three masses in any one weekend.

Members of the Milton Keynes North Pastoral Area have now drawn up priest-saving proposals to be presented to the Bishop this month.

These include saving cash by housing all city priests in a ‘super presbytery’ building rather than individual houses.