By KATIE BORKOWSKI
With Ministry 2025, pastoral planning, a few churches in the Diocese of Sioux City have closed.
Since the churches are closed, the sacred items in the church are no longer being used. Policies and procedures are in place to take care of these items that have been used for sacred purposes.
The Policy on Sacred Patrimony states, “The care of the sacred items that belong to the parishes of the Diocese of Sioux City is an important task that the bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City shares with the pastors of the diocese. Once an item is purchased or donated for sacred use it must be perpetually cared for.”
Sister Esther Mary Nickel, RSM, associate director of worship, explained sacred items are anything that has been used for the Mass – chalices, altar, ambo, sanctuary bells, linens, candle holders, etc. – vestments, albs, statues and stained glass windows. The pews in a church, however, are not considered sacred items.
Though the closing of churches is difficult, she said, the positive, wonderful thing is “it is remarkable the oversight and responsibility the people in this diocese are taking to be sure that things are put into use in their proper way.”
“If they can no longer be used because they are damaged, then they are disposed of properly according to the protocol we have for the church,” said Sister Esther Mary. “There is responsible action being taken because of the care for those who came before us. There is a desire to have a continuity. There is an appreciation for the people behind these parishes.”
Through working with the IT department, Sister Esther Mary said, a software program has been developed to catalog the sacred items.
“Whenever a church is closed, we go in and give the sacred items a number,” she said. “For example, St. Joseph Sioux Rapids would be SJSR and whatever number in sequence.”
Along with the number, a picture is taken of the item and a description of the item is written.
“We have a fourth column for where the item goes,” said Sister Esther Mary. “Once that is done, it is uploaded to the (diocesan) website and we give access to the pastors in the neighboring parishes who would have assumed or received parishioners from that parish.”
The diocese has a location in the diocese set aside for the sacred items to be stored. Each closed church has a room in the facility where the items from that parish are stored.
If the pastors have a need from what is available, then they can request an item.
“After that, all the pastors have a way to access those files and they can look and say, ‘This is something that would be useful for my parish,’” said Sister Esther Mary. “Once everyone has an opportunity, everything else will stay in storage or we will look for places in the missions (to send the items).”
The important thing for parishioners to know, she said, is the diocese knows where the sacred items are going, they are in a safe place and the items are being used for a sacred purpose.
“Father Brian Hughes is behind all of this because he found some things that should never have been used for secular purposes at a flea market,” she said. “People try to sell things on Ebay. Relics are on Ebay. The diocese is very wise in saying, ‘That’s not what we do.’ After the sacred items are dispersed, we will keep a hard copy in the archives of the former church they belonged to.”
If someone gave a chalice in honor of their grandfather and they wonder what happened to it when they hear that the parish has closed, they could call the diocese to find out where the item is now located, noted Sister Esther Mary.
The Mercy sister has worked with Father Hughes and others to make sure the sacred items are being properly cared for, cataloged, distributed and stored.
“It is his expertise and his heart because he loves church architecture and sacred items,” said Sister Esther Mary. “He wants to make sure they are properly cared for. He is a very responsible priest in that way. That is a great service to the diocese. He is the push behind this.”
Part of pastoral plan
As part of the pastoral plans, all of the churches, especially those that may be going to oratory status, are being asked to do an inventory of their sacred items.
“We put the software on the website, so they can download it and do something similar,” said Sister Esther Mary. “They can ask questions and we can help. Not that the items would be distributed, but that they would have some idea of what they have in their church.”
The Policy on Sacred Patrimony is available to view on the diocesan website, scdiocese.org, with the Ministry 2025 information under diocesan policies.