The two churches were closed in 2005 by orders of the bishop as part of a clustering program by the Diocese of Toledo. Parishioners of the two parishes were asked to attend a third area church, St. Gaspar del Bufalo, on County Road 46 in Bellevue.
“No one could understand the reasoning of the bishop,” said Deb Bumb, president of the Bismark Senior Community Center.
Several groups have joined with the Bismark association in an effort to save St. Sebastian, including Rick Reed from the Willard Ohio Genealogy Group, the same organization that is behind the “Save the Willard Clock” venture. Research by that group says the church — one that served 135 families over the years — was built by German immigrants as the area is of German descent. It was Reed’s understanding the parishioners attempted to buy the church some years back, but that purchase failed for unknown reasons.
A letter by Bishop Daniel E. Thomas sent to the Rev. Jacob V. Gordon, the pastor of St. Gaspar del Buffalo, dated Dec. 26, 2017, provided reasons for the decision.
Kelly Donaghy, senior director of communications for the Toledo Diocese, said the process for demolition has started. She said there is no specific date for demolition of St. Sebastion, which will give parishioners time “to get keepsakes” out of the church.
As for Assumption in Reed, there has to be “asbestos abatement before it comes down,” she said.
A follow-up letter from the bishop said despite all of the efforts to save the church, plans for demolition haven’t changed.
“This comes in response to your recent email, which was sent to my office requesting my reconsideration of the decision to raze the former St. Sebastian Church in Bellevue (Bismark) and the former Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bellevue (Reed), Ohio,” the letter said.
“Please know that I understand and deeply appreciate the connection you and others, both this in the Bismark and Reed areas and those who have family ties there, have with these church buildings; for many years they were locations of Catholic divine worship — places where the sacraments were celebrated and memorable events in the life of faith took place for so many Catholics,” Thomas wrote.
“Sadly, as many individuals chose to move away or no longer exercise their Catholic faith, it was necessary to merge parishes in your area and throughout the diocese in 2005. This was undertaken in an effort to keep Catholic communities viable for the future generations and to help the faithful once again to realize that the parish is first and foremost in a community of authentic Christians, persons who are in every sense of the word ‘eucharistic’: filled with charity, forgiving, loving neighbors, patiently suffering.
“Please be aware that members of both the finance and pastoral councils of Saint Gaspsar del Bufalo Parish, along with their pastor, Father Jacob Gordon, requested the relegation of both St. Sebastian Church and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Bellevue (Reed) because the parish did not have sufficient funding for their upkeep. In the letter requesting relegation, dated 12 Oct. 2017, Father Gordon expressed the concern that Saint Gaspar del Bufalo Parish faced a likely financial deficit, which would only be worsened if the two former church buildings were retained by the parish.
“After thorough analysis, it was either not possible or did not seem prudent to alienate — through a donation or public sale — the two closed church buildings. Assumption Church is logically connected with the cemetery on the same grounds and provides the sufficient space to expand the cemetery if needed in the future. The former St. Sebastian Church is immediately adjacent to the cemetery, thereby making it impossible to separate it from the cemetery, which Saint Gaspar Parish would retain. As a result, a way forward had to be found that would release any possible future burden for maintaining buildings closed since 2005 that the parish has neither used not needed, and resolve, as best as possible, the financial situation of the parish. You can therefore see why the logical decision was to raze the structures,” the bishop said in the letter.
“Some individuals have indicated that they are now willing to contribute to the retention, repair and perpetual care of these closed buildings. This, however, should cause us to pause and consider the current realities of Saint Gaspar Parish. With due respect for those who may have offered the abovementioned funding, it is deeply concerning that similar support does not appear to be present for the active parish, the location where the church regularly celebrates the Sacraments and sacred rites — those celebrations that go beyond the buildings and truly make us the church present in the community.
“Please know that I feel the weight of the decision that has been made with regard to these former church buildings; it has not been taken lightly, nor has it been made with haste. It is with the realization of the greater responsibility I have toward all the faithful of the area, and particularly those of Saint Gaspar del Bufalo Parish, as well as Catholics throughout the Diocese of Toledo, that I must confirm the decision has already been made.”