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Debt won't close doors at Most Holy Name of Jesus

The church is working on ways to repay the diocese almost half a million dollars spent in running a now-closed parochial school.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published May 6, 2007


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GULFPORT - The Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church is not in danger of closing, despite a recent item appearing in a free community paper.

It is true, though, that the church has an almost half-million-dollar debt, said the Rev. Jim Merkel, pastor of the Gulfport church, which has 1, 000 registered parishioners.

Frank Murphy, spokesman for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, said the shortfall is largely because of the expense of running the parish school, which has been closed for four years.

"They closed the school, but before the school closed, it created quite a debt for the parish, " he said.

Word that the church also might close came in an item in the Gabber that said the church has a $475, 000 deficit. In it, parishioner Collyn Lockamy pleads for help to save the church. A photograph shows Lockamy presenting $271.64 to Merkel to help offset the deficit.

Murphy said the money mentioned is actually a debt the church owes the diocese.

"Many parishes have some debt. They build a new church or they have a school. A parish like Holy Name, they're doing fine, " he said. The church is just trying to eliminate its debt, he said.

Four years ago, when the Rev. William J. Swengros announced that the parish school would close, he said the school owed the diocese close to $400, 000 for property and liability insurance, pension funds and other items and services that the diocese purchases cooperatively.

"We have to repay the diocese, " said Swengros, who is no longer at Most Holy Name.

"We're getting ready to pay it back, " Merkel said.

The church's finance committee is working on ways to repay the debt, which began accruing interest in November. "They are looking at all possibilities at what needs to be done, " he said.

Longtime parishioner Ann Bulmanski said she has been aware of the church's debt.

"I'm concerned, but everybody owes money, and I don't think that we're the only ones in this position. ... Things are tight in our society right now too, " she said. "These things happen. You get through them, and you just go on."

Parishioners have had questions about the church's finances in the past. At the time Swengros announced that Most Holy Name's school would close, angry parents questioned what had happened to a fund established by a former priest, the late Rev. Frank P. Goodman, for use by the school. The fund was said to have been $1-million.

Swengros explained then that the fund had been designed so that the interest could be used to support Catholic education for parishioners' children.

Over the years, he said, withdrawals had been made from the fund to keep the school afloat. He said that the $400, 000 remaining would ensure that parishioners' children could continue their Catholic school education elsewhere.

Financial troubles have plagued other parishes and their schools. Earlier this year, the diocese announced that two parochial schools, Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park and Transfiguration in St. Petersburg, would merge.

Last year, falling enrollment and money problems forced the diocese to take over financial responsibility for the two schools from their respective parishes.

The merger is set to begin in the 2007-08 school year. The combined campus, which will be at Sacred Heart, 7951 46th Way N, Pinellas Park, will be known as the Sacred Heart Interparochial School.

More than 190 students have enrolled for the upcoming school year, Murphy said.

The new school will be supported by both parishes, he said, adding that Transfiguration will renovate its school building and expand its early childhood center.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.

[Last modified May 5, 2007, 18:35:25]


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