QUAERITUR: Can a church’s name be changed?

Bp. Finn consecrates Old Saint Patrick'sParish mergers happen.  When they do, sometimes a new name is cobbled up to identify the new entity.  Sometimes, however, names of churches are changed.

From a reader:

There is a parish in my diocese that was formed years ago through the
merger of two ethnic parishes. Over the course of time, the smaller of
the two was torn down and the congregation still uses the second of
the two churches. 2012 will be the 125th anniversary of the dedication of that church. The parish is advertising it, though, as the 125 anniversary of the dedication of the parish, which did not come about until some 60 years after the dedication of the church. Can they do this? It was my understanding that once a church is dedicated, it
cannot change its name.

My understanding is that the name of church cannot be changed without the permission of the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

Churches are dedicated or consecrated with a name.  In the rite of consecration of a church, the walls were washed and anointed.  The building is a thenceforth a sacramental.  Like a living thing, it is given a name.  These names cannot be changed unless there is great need.

If the name of a church has changed, it is reasonable to wonder of permission was sought.   I repeat that it is my understand that permission is necessary.  I am happy to be corrected if it is not necessary.

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  1. ray from mn says:

    In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis where they just released an archdiocesan re-organization plan, this issue has come up.

    The names of churches cannot be renamed easily. The oldest territorial church in the new grouping will be come the head of a new parish, under a new name to be determined by the parishioners of all the former parishes. Not every church in a merger may be torn down immediately and if continued to be used for Mass and the sacraments, it would be known as St. Old Name chapel of St. New Name parish. The oldest territorial parish, then, would have a new name, but of a parish that is legally different and much larger.

    In a merger in St. Paul several years ago, the parishes of St. Leo, St. Gregory and St. Theresa became Lumen Christi parish. St. Theresa’s was given to a Korean Catholic parish, St. Andrew Kim, and St. Gregory’s which had its altar in a school basement was turned over to a school.

  2. dans0622 says:

    Yes, the permission of the CDWDS is needed before changing the title of the church (see canon 1218). I am not sure I completely understand the given scenario. Is the founding of the territory as a “parish” being commemorated or the consecration of a particular church building? As the question itself makes clear, it is easy to confuse the title of the church building, the parish as a territory, and the patron of the parish. The name and patron of the parish can be changed without the permission of the CDWDS, when there is an event such as a merger of parishes.

  3. Titus says:

    The parish is advertising it, though, as the 125 anniversary of the dedication of the parish, which did not come about until some 60 years after the dedication of the church. Can they do this?

    A parish is a distinct thing from the parish’s church (or churches). A parish a juridical entity under canon law—like a corporation in secular law, except without shareholders (nobody “owns” a parish). The parish, however, does own the church building. I’m not aware of a canon that says the parish and the church building have to go by the same name. So if the parishes using the church of St. A and the parish using the church of St. B are merged, you can call the parish something else altogether without—so far as I’m aware—necessarily changing the name of the church itself. We just assume that the building and the parish have to use the same name because, well, that’s the norm.

    But I’m not aware of anything that requires that this be the case. And regardless, I don’t see anything wrong with having a celebration of the anniversary of a church’s dedication. If the parish is being a little bit sloppy with the history, it’s not the end of the world. I’m also not aware of a canonical delict for false advertising.

  4. Charivari Rob says:

    Yeah, we’ve had much the same issue here in Boston with mergers, suppressions, erecting new parishes, hyphenated parishes, etc…

    The building name doesn’t change, no matter what permutations the parishes undergo.

  5. Fr. Basil says:

    In my childhood stomping ground, there was a parish, with the name in stone above the door, called St. Clement’s.

    It was closed briefly, and then reopened by Salesians, under the name St. John Bosco–and the name in stone above the door was changed.

    This happened in the ’70’s. I have no reason to assume it was against church law.

  6. teaguytom says:

    Our EF community in Harrisburg has paid rent from the cathedral parish for use of St Lawrence Chapel. It was built for St Lawrence German Parish but after they combined with the Cathedral, it became a Cathedral Chapel. The community goes by Mater Dei and it is hoped that Bishop McFadden will name us a Quasi-parish . I’m not sure whether we will eventually take the name of St Lawrence when we finally become a personal parish, or stay as Mater Dei parish at St Lawrence church. It would be hard to change the church name anyhow. St Lawrence’s statue is carved in the reredos, it’s in the back of church, plus a cornerstone in the sanctuary read “In honorem St Laurentius”

  7. Supertradmum says:

    Our cathedral had a name change after the Devotion to the Sacred Heart was established, and is the first church to be named after the Sacred Heart west of the Mississippi.

  8. PghCath says:

    From a 2006 article in the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit: “The diocesan bishop (or archbishop) has the authority to rename a parish, but renaming a church building can be more complex. If the church building was simply blessed, the name can be changed by the bishop; if it was dedicated, the name can only be changed with the prior permission of the Apostolic See.” See http://www.aodonline.org/AODOnline/News+++Publications+2203/Michigan+Catholic+News+12203/2006+The+Michigan+Catholic+News+13857/060810+-+How+do+merged+parishes+choose+a+new+name.htm

    I imagine that this will become more common in years to come. In 2002, the Armstrong County, PA parish in which I was baptised merged with two other parishes in the same town. My family’s church – St. Mary’s – was selected to survive while the other two were closed. So that those from the closed parishes didn’t think that St. Mary’s “won,” the name of both the parish and the church was changed to “Christ, Prince of Peace.” The building will always be St. Mary’s in my mind, but if the name change helped the consolidation process, so be it.

  9. Dr. K says:

    We have had a similar thing happen in the Diocese of Rochester. Currently, there are five churches merging in the Northeast part of the city. The pastoral leadership team of a layperson and a priest are taking suggestions for possible names for the newly merged parish, and one of these names is… “Cesar Chavez.”

    I personally do not feel that parishes should be given separate names from the churches they contain. If a new name must be given, how about calling it the “Parish of St. X and St. Y”?

  10. Sliwka says:

    I do not know if the proper channels were taken, but I know of a Ukrainian Catholic Church established in the area that began named St Nicholas (of Myra), but when it was moved to an open air museum for restoration and preservation, it was named St Mary’s (of Something).

    When moved to the museum, the building was restored to its appearance in 1928 and again bears the name of Sviat Nikolai (the building remains consecrated, and under supervision of the provincial government is officially owned by the Eparchy).

  11. Emilio III says:

    Supertradmom, our cathedral’s name went the other way, from Sacred Heart to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

  12. Tina in Ashburn says:

    This discussion explains how an old historic Maryland parish is known as “Old St John’s” and “Our Lady of Poland”. [The EF is said there once a month.] Which is it? Aha, now I understand.
    Originally founded by Fr John Carroll in the 1700s, the church is also used by the congregation of Our Lady of Poland.
    I never understood the difference between the name of the consecrated church BUILDING and parish congregations that use it. Thanks all!

    The summary of its history is interesting at http://www.sjeparish.org/welcome/history.html

    And yes, some very interesting people are buried in its cemetery!

  13. Nan says:

    As Ray said, the same thing is going on in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; in a new situation, Holy Cross and two others are merging with St. Anthony. Despite its small size, it has senior status and the other buildings become Holy Cross Campus of St. Anthony, etc. Over time, although the original building may be torn down or sold, the parish still retains the name of the senior parish, which may be the situation about which you received the question.

    Similarly, the Cathedral will now have St. Vincent de Paul campus of the Cathedral of St. Paul; in this case, the reorg formalizes a situation currently in place as St. Vincent’s has shared its pastor with the Cathedral for the last several years.

  14. Norah says:

    Off topic but what a pity so many Catholic schools are built which do not have the name of a saint or one of Our Lady’s or Our Lord’s titles. Here in Australia we have e.g. suburb name Catholic College or Bishop Blah Blah Catholic College. I can remember the celebration of the feast day of my Catholic school and lament the passing of yet another Catholic distinctive.

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