Hays Two Catholic parishes that have existed for nearly 100 years will lose their churches this month because of declining populations and a shortage of priests.
After June 29, St. Ann Catholic Church in Zurich and St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Claudell will no longer have services conducted on Sunday mornings by priests who drive in from other towns.
Bishop George Fitzsimons of the Salina Diocese met with the congregations of the churches about a month ago to tell them about the decision.
The diocese will continue to own the church buildings, which will be available for special events such as weddings, Fitzsimons said.
Fitzsimons declined to speculate if other churches would be closed.
"We have to continue to evaluate that situation as demographics continue to change," he said.
The Rev. Joe Popelka, the priest assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Plainville, has filled the pulpit at St. Ann since 1997. The last priest assigned to the parish full time died in 1990.
Popelka said he had talked with the church council for a couple of years about the possibility of closing the church, but still the news was a surprise to the congregation.
"I think the night the bishop came and talked to them, they were very shocked and hurt," Popelka said.
He said the parish members could transfer to either Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Plainville or attend church in Palco.
Popelka said the St. Ann parish has existed since the 1880s, when services were conducted about once a month, in people's homes, by a visiting priest. The congregation built its first building in 1885, and the cornerstone of the current building was laid in 1950.
Average attendance at St. Francis Xavier Church in Claudell is ordinarily 15 to 30 people, its priest said.