For 75 years now, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown has served as a source of comfort and pillar of strength for hundreds of thousands within and outside its fold.
As such, we congratulate and send best wishes to the Youngstown-based six-county religious institution as it embarks this week on a yearlong celebration of its diamond jubilee.
The theme for the extended event that began Sunday with an anniversary Mass at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown, the mother house church of the diocese, is aptly titled “With Pride in the Past and Faith in the Future.”
From its inauspicious beginnings through its growth and evolution over the past 71/2 decades, there has been much for which the 200,000 Catholics in the six-county territory of 1.3 million people can take pride. For the short- and long-term future, nothing suggests members of the Mahoning Valley’s largest religious domination will not keep the faith burning to enrich lives and strengthen communities.
BEGINNINGS OF THE DIOCESE
In May 1943, Pope Pius XII carved out Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Stark, Portage and Ashtabula counties from the mammoth Diocese of Cleveland to better manage a growing population in Northeast Ohio. Earlier, the pope similarly chipped off Northwestern Ohio counties from Cleveland to create the Diocese of Toledo.
Bishop James McFadden assumed the formidable responsibilities of establishing and building the diocese from the ground up. He would set an example of excellence met by each of the four other religious men who have served as bishop of Youngstown.
They are Bishop Emmet Walsh who served from 1953 to 1968, Bishop James Malone from 1968 to 1995, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin from 1995 to 2005 and Bishop George Murry who continues his tenure that began 11 years ago upon his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI.
All of them have centered their ministry and leadership at St. Columba, the stately crown jewel of the Catholic church in the diocese. When the West Wood Street structure burned to ashes in a fire in 1954, Bishop Walsh and parishioners mustered up the requisite funding and grit to erect the new cathedral on the same site.
That spirit of faith and resilience has long epitomized the character of the diocese and its members. To the larger community, that spirit is perhaps most visible in the diocese’s passionate commitment to its members, its communities and toward social justice for all inside and outside of the Catholic Church.
In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the diocese joined others in lobbying and working to establish initiatives for students in its parochial school system and for those in poorly performing public districts anywhere in the diocese.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Catholic Church took an active role in seeking to assist the tens of thousands of workers in the Mahoning Valley left jobless by the relatively sudden collapse of the region’s once-robust steel industry. Bishop Malone helped to organize the Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley, whose mission it was to help unemployed steelworkers and persuade steel industry leaders to reinvest in the Valley.
Though its latter goal ultimately failed, the dogged determination of Bishop Malone, clergy from other denominations and lay members also served to enhance the public image of the church and its mission throughout the nation.
Bishop Malone also made a name for himself and for his home diocese when he assumed the presidency of the influential U.S. Conference of Bishops, which took strong stands issues as diverse as abortion and nuclear nonproliferation.
In more recent years, the diocese has continued its social activism. Bishop Murry, for example, recently sat on a statewide commission aimed at improving police-community relations.
The DOY also has generously amped up its assistance programs for the needy in our community with housing sites and food pantries organized by its steadfast Catholic Charities affiliate.
Clearly, the future of the diocese brings with it many challenges as well. None looms larger than rebuilding its base. The church, like most traditional denominations, has witnessed a decline in membership in churches and schools. The numbers of Catholic religious leaders has fallen to new lows as well.
PRAY FOR BISHOP MURRY
Fortunately, the diocese enjoys fine leadership in Bishop Murry to tackle those and other challenges. The respected bishop, however, is currently hospitalized at Cleveland Clinic for acute leukemia.
We therefore urge Catholics and non-Catholics alike to pray for Bishop Murry’s speedy recovery so he can take his rightful spot of leadership for the diamond jubilee, while leading the Youngstown Diocese toward continued success in serving the spiritual needs of its members and in building upon its sturdy foundation of compassionate community outreach for all.