GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 17, 2013

Archdiocese merge plan aimed at saving parishes

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — An archdiocese-wide plan that would merge Gloucester’s catholic parishes into a collaborative, though it has been criticized for “forcing” pastoral resignations, actually aims to save parishes, representatives of the Archdiocese of Boston said during a visit to Gloucester Tuesday.

“We want every parish of the archdiocese, not just every collaborative, but every parish to be a strong, stable, intentional and effective member,” said the Rev. Paul Soper, a leader in creating and rolling out the pastoral plan.

The archdiocese created a collaborative between Gloucester’s Our Lady of Good Voyage and Holy Family parishes as the two-year, second stage of a seven-stage process that will restructure almost 270 parishes into about 135 collaboratives. With the first stage underway and the last scheduled for 2021, the collaborative made up of the Gloucester churches can expect to hear its new clergy named by Christmas, though the group will begin work much later at the start of June. Those clergy members would work for all of the churches within the collaborative.

The collaboration plan controversially forced the resignation of Holy Family’s the Rev. John Kiley and Our Lady of Good Voyage’s the Rev. Eugene Alves.

The archdiocese created the plan with the hope of seeing each parish revitalize itself, maybe in the next 20 years or so, at which point the collaboratives would resolve and leave just the parishes. The current core issue facing the church, according to Soper, is that the number of parishioners has decreased. That, he said, has caused deficits in the numbers of priests and trained ministers and the amount of money the church has to work with.

“If you make any progress on that core deficit, the other deficits go away over time,” Soper said. “When the pastoral plan has done its work and we’re thriving again, we can fold it up and put it in a drawer.”

Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley refuses to accept the trend of decreasing congregation sizes, according to Terry Donilon, the archdiocese’s secretary for communications.

“He doesn’t accept the trends. If he accepted the trends, he’d have to give up,” Donilon said. “Hence this plan.”

A mathematical formula that calculates each church’s vitality placed the Gloucester-based parishes in stage two along with 20 other collaboratives. The religious leaders forming the collaboration plan hosted about 40 meetings since January 2012 and heard from more than 5,000 people who attended those meetings. The first stage formed 12 collaboratives, and each stage after creates about 20 collaboratives.

The new collaborative structure with Our Lady’s will be the second change in the last eight years for leaders and parishioners at St. Ann’s, which was essentially merged with St. Joaquim Church in Rockport in 2005 and St. Anthony’s — a move that also shut down Sacred Heart and St. Peter’s.

Statistics showed that Our Lady of Good Voyage celebrated 40 weddings over the past year, while the Holy Family parish hosted 94. At Our Lady of Good Voyage 32 funerals took place, and 78 more funerals were held at Holy Family. The parishes held a total of 2,201 masses, with Our Lady of Good Voyage holding 1,340 of those.

The finances, which differ greatly between the two parishes, will remain completely separate, with each parish still led by its own financial counsel. The collaboratives will not be formally named even, so the parishes may better maintain their individual identities, Soper said.

While the change has left several in Gloucester’s Catholic community questioning their future church attendance, others have said their faith in the religion will keep them connected to the church. Soper agreed with the latter group, saying that parishes are what keep people going to church, not other factors.

“Parishes are what people have loyalty to,” said Soper.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.