CINCINNATI — For Father Reynaldo Taylor, the West End has been home since he was a child.
"I’ve been at St. Joseph since I was 5 years old,” he said, referring to St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in the West End. Taylor graduated from the elementary school and has been the priest of the parish for the last 12 years.
“We have a rich legacy of a lot of vocations that have come out of our parish. Even two of our bishops have come from St. Joseph’s,” he said.
But now, his time is almost over. Taylor has informed St. Joseph's parishioners that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will reassign him on July 1. Taylor has already served the parish for two, six-year terms. That is the maximum length of time a priest can serve, unless a request is made for an extension. Otherwise, the priest is reassigned. However, Taylor didn't expect to leave because he believed reassignments were on hold.
“We were told through Diocesan Deanery that all (transfers) would be put on hold until we mapped out the pastoral plan,” Taylor said.
Last fall, the Archdiocese sent a letter to Taylor and other priests about the launch of a new pastoral planning process. Taylor said there were leadership discussions for the process that included the creation of "parish groupings" over the next few years due to the declining number of priests.
However, he was surprised by the letter he received last month regarding the end of his assignment at St. Joseph, which also detailed a plan to place the church under the administration of the Cathedral Basilica. Father Jan Schmidt, rector at the Cathedral, would be named administrator of St. Joseph, with a rotation of priests handling the liturgical schedule, according to the letter.
“I called our Dean of our Deanery, Father Todd Grogan, to ask him if he was aware of this phone call and he said no,” Taylor said. “I shared with him what the phone call was about, that I was being transferred July 1 and he said 'I thought all of that was on hold.' And I said, well Father, that’s why I’m calling you.”
St. Joseph was built in 1846 by Germans in the West End. At one time, there were nine Catholic churches in the West End. Today, St. Joseph is the only one left with between 450-500 families, according to Taylor. While the congregation is diverse, it is one of only a few predominantly African American parishes in Cincinnati. Taylor said he is also one of just a few African American priests in town.
Taylor will hold an all-parish meeting following Sunday mass on March 21. He said someone from the Archdiocese is expected to be there to answer questions from parishioners, like Mary Richardson.
“I just can’t understand why they want to take him away from us,” said Richardson, who also grew up in the West End and has been a member of St. Joseph for 64 years. She speaks highly of Taylor, who many in the parish and the West End community refer to as "Father Rey."
“I love him as a friend, as a pastor. He’s been that anchor for me and my family,” she said. “I’ve lost most of my family members. I have one brother. But, Father Rey has been there.”
“The Archdiocese is making these decisions with no discussions from the people, no hearing from the people,” Taylor said.
Jennifer Schack, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati emailed the following response to a request for comment from WCPO 9 News:
“Pastor assignments continue to be filled in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. There is no 'hold' on reassignments or new assignments. As terms expire for pastors, as pastors retire, or as other needs arise, new pastors continue to be assigned. The archdiocese continues to serve the faithful by providing pastors for their parishes.
Fr. Taylor has not requested an extension of his term as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Cincinnati. Over the last 9 months on at least 4 occasions, both in conversation and in writing, Fr. Taylor has expressed to the archdiocese his desire to leave St. Joseph prior to or at his term's end, then subsequently his willingness and expectation to be reassigned when his term ends. In addition, Fr. Taylor is completing twelve years as pastor at St. Joseph Parish and according to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Priests’ Personnel Policies, 'requests by the pastor to stay beyond twelve years must be submitted to the Priests’ Personnel Board for its review.' Fr. Taylor did not submit such a request to remain at St. Joseph Parish. In the Fall of 2020, letters were mailed to all pastors of the archdiocese whose terms would be ending, requesting their intentions, and Fr. Taylor did not respond.
The archdiocese has no plans to close St. Joseph School or Church.”
Taylor said he stands by his position that he informed the Archdiocese that he did not want to be assigned to any parish other than St. Joseph. He said he will contact the Archdiocese again for further conversation.
However, Taylor and some parish members have been unhappy with other decisions, like the change last fall that separated St. Joseph Catholic School from the church. It is now under control of the Catholic Inner-City Schools Education (CISE).
“What I’ve been told very nicely is my mismanagement, my miseducation, my condescending attitude, my abruptness, my difficulty in dealing with,” said Taylor in disagreement with those characterizations.
“Our school which has been around for over 170 years, all of a sudden, we’ve got all these issues,” he said.
Richardson sees the separation from the school and the effort to remove Taylor as a continuation of changes in the West End. She is concerned that a new priest will change the cultural worship style that the church has incorporated.
“We’re able to worship and pray and just really be ourselves at our Mass,” Richardson said. “That’s all that’s been done in the West End is everything has been taken away from us. And this, we look at this like you’re taking a vital part of St. Joseph’s.”
Meanwhile, Taylor remains hopeful that the Archdiocese will reverse the decision and allow him to stay. The sign outside says St. Joseph is a "tower of faith," and parishioners say they're still standing.
“We should have been closed 50 years ago, when they knocked down St. Joseph to widen Linn Street," he said. "We should never have been rebuilt. But, with God’s grace and mercy, St. Joseph rose up out of the ashes. And, we continue today to be that beacon of faith, that tower of faith in the West End since 1846.”