A neighborhood fixture at 697 Keel Ave, Holy Names' parishioners were proud of the church's 70-year history and desired to see a revival. (Courtesy photo)

Several years of declining membership and waning numbers of new congregants forced the Catholic Diocese of Memphis to consider a complete closure of Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church, just north of Downtown Memphis.

The threat of a full-blown, coronavirus outbreak in Shelby County hastened the date of closure.

“Membership at Holy Names has continued a steady decline,” said Rick Ouellette, director of communications. “Of course, we hate to see any of our churches having to close.

“Holy Names was special. It was diverse. Although it was situated in an African-American community, the Sisters of Charity attended mass there.”

Since congregations throughout the city are moving to online and streaming worship services because of the COVID-19 outbreak in Shelby County, it seemed an appropriate time to close the church.

“And actually, Holy Names was not completely closed,” Ouellette said. “It was actually merged with St. Mary’s Catholic Church downtown. However, some congregates are choosing to go to Little Flower Catholic Church, also located near Downtown Memphis.”

After “a thorough evaluation and prayerful consideration,” Presiding Bishop David P. Talley of the Memphis Diocese felt it was time to finally close the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church, according to Ouellette.

“It was still a very difficult decision, although based primarily on the declining number of parishioners in attending mass,” said Bishop Talley. “The parish of Holy Names experienced a dramatic reduction in registered parishioners, and most parishioners who live in the territory choose to worship elsewhere.”

The parishioners who have continued to worship at the Holy Names Church for years have been faithful to their parish, because it was their church, said Ouellette. Those who stayed were proud of the church’s 70-year history, and they desired to see a revival and the congregation return to its former glory.

However, a decline of the neighborhood, where the church stood at 697 Keel Ave. in North Memphis, has suffered over the past three decades with school closings, the decline also of homeowners in the community, and the loss of neighborhood businesses. Deserted buildings and blight have also plagued surrounding neighborhoods.

Parishioners remained faithful to the church they loved, and they are to be commended for that, Bishop Talley said. But it was evident that with fewer and fewer parishioners attending mass there, the time to close was near.

The final Sunday Mass at Holy Names was celebrated on March 8, with a gathering in the fellowship hall following the Mass. All sacramental records from the Holy Names Church will now be preserved at St. Mary Catholic Church in Downtown Memphis.

“It was a bittersweet end,” said Ouelette. “All sacred furnishings from Holy Names were carefully and lovingly removed from the church.