Diocese files lawsuit to collect $3 million
If the court case succeeds, funds would be used to treat those with emotional disorders, for whom St. Dymphna honors.
YOUNGSTOWN — The Diocese of Youngstown has filed legal action seeking more than $3 million that has accumulated in a fund to maintain the Shrine of St. Dymphna in a Massillon Catholic church.
The money would be used by Diocesan social service agencies “to assist those with mental or nervous disorders,” according to the filing in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
The Diocese believes this would be a good use for the money because when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown Foundation St. Dymphna Fund was created, its purpose was to pay for operation and maintenance of the shrine.
But the language contained in the organizing documents stated that in the event the shrine should cease to operate or exist, the remaining funds “will be devoted to the promotion of the interests or to assist those with mental or nervous disorders.”
St. Dymphna is the patroness of those with mental and emotional disorders, including depression, anxiety, autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions, according to the Diocese of Youngstown. The annual St. Dymphna feast day and anniversary celebration took place May 21.
The emphasis on assisting individuals with mental or nervous disorders apparently stems from the story of St. Dymphna, who was born in 7th century Ireland, the daughter of a Pagan king and a Christian mother, “who was remarkable both for her piety and her great beauty. Dymphna was, like her mother, a paragon of beauty, and a most sweet and winning child, the ‘jewel’ of her home,” according to a history of St. Dymphna contained on the National Shrine of St. Dymphna website.
When the young virgin’s mother died, she and her father greatly mourned, but her father eventually was persuaded to find a second marriage. His search for someone like his first wife was unsuccessful, however.
The king “conceived the evil design of marrying Dymphna,” but the girl was “greatly horrified” and fled the country. Her father found her and encouraged her to return with him, but infuriated by her resistance, the father killed Dymphna.
“Recommending her soul to the mercy of God, the holy virgin fell prostrate at the feet of her insanely raving father,” according to the account.
The fund consists of $359,180 in an account for preservation and maintenance of the shrine. A separate St. Dymphna Investment Fund account holds an additional $3,137,080. The funds came from the Diocese and “various individuals” making contributions in support of the shrine, the filing states.
The lawsuit states that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown Foundation holds the fund, called the St. Dymphna Fund, created to support the maintenance and capital improvements of the National Shrine of St. Dymphna Chapel.
The lawsuit, assigned to Judge John Durkin, names as defendant Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office oversees charitable entities and purposes within the state.
So far, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has not responded to the request. Attorney Leo Puhalla of Youngstown filed the suit on behalf of the Diocese.
Puhalla explained in an email that this filing “will allow the National Shrine of St. Dymphna to continue with its current operations while directing a portion of the money held in the St. Dymphna Fund to assist individuals with nervous and mental afflictions.”
He explained that the principal of the St. Dymphna Fund held by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown will remain untouched.
“The income associated with this Fund will be used to not only maintain the current operations of the Shrine, but also, provide vitally needed social services and assistance to individuals suffering from stress anxiety through the social welfare agencies affiliated with the Diocese of Youngstown.
“This adaptive approach to address the needs of people suffering from mental or nervous disorders while maintaining the current operations of the Shrine is a fitting tribute, which honors those individuals whose hard work and contributions built the St. Dymphna shrine.”
The chapel was formerly was located on the grounds of the Massillon State Hospital in Massillon. The chapel was constructed in about 1938 when it was under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
The “principal religious artifact around which the National Shrine of St. Dymphna is organized is a statue of St. Dymphna,” the filing states. The state of Ohio owned the “underlying real estate” for the hospital.
When the Diocese of Youngstown was created in 1943, ownership of the shrine and the Catholic chapel were transferred to the Diocese of Youngstown because the physical location of the chapel fell within the jurisdiction of the Youngstown Diocese.
In 1997, the shrine funds were transferred to the Diocese of Youngstown Foundation Declaration of Trust, thereby creating the St. Dymphna Fund, the filing explains. The foundation is a not-for-profit corporation, which is tax exempt under Internal Revenue Service rules.
In 2012, the state of Ohio advised the Diocese that the Catholic chapel could no longer remain on the real estate of the state mental hospital because of a “variety of factors including security issues for patients in the hospital,” the filing relates.
Therefore, the Diocese moved the statue of St. Dymphna and the National Shrine of St. Dymphna to St. Mary’s Parish in Massillon, which is now known as Divine Mercy Parish. The state demolished the Catholic chapel at the state mental hospital.
Because the statue of St. Dymphna and the National Shrine of St. Dymphna are now located in St. Mary’s / Divine Mercy, the amount of money required to maintain the National Shrine of St. Dymphna and the the statue of St. Dymphna has “been drastically reduced” because the “physical structure” of the chapel is gone, the filing states.
The amount of money now held by the Diocese in the St. Dymphna Fund exceeds the amount allowed under Ohio law for such a fund; therefore, the Diocese is asking Attorney General Yost’s office to allow the balances in the two accounts to be re-allocated.
The $359,180 in the St. Dymphna fund would be endowed to preservation and maintenance of the statue and the “corresponding operations associated with the National Shrine of St. Dymphna regardless of where said statue and National Shrine may be located,” the filing states.
The $3,137,080 held in the St. Dymphna Investment Fund would be endowed “to promote the interests or to assist those with mental or nervous disorders with the expenditure of said income being administered by the social service agencies affiliated with the Diocese of Youngstown,” the filing states.
The Diocese believes that the movement of the funds is “contemplated by” the Ohio law governing such matters because moving the funds “will promote greater good while still carrying out the charitable purpose for which the funds were donated,” the filing states.