New Pastor Brings Hope to St. Julia's

By Susan L. Sherwood
Milford Daily News [Weston MA]
November 15, 2003

WESTON -- One parishioner has called St. Julia's Church the "ground zero" of the state's clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Under the direction of their new pastor, church members are looking forward to healing rather than looking back at pain.

The Rev. George P. Evans was formally installed as pastor on Oct. 29, with the Archdiocese of Boston's new archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, presiding over the Mass of Installation. Scores of priests, nuns and seminarians attended the event, along with friends and relatives of Evans.

But the most important guests, in terms of the healing of St. Julia's, were the parishioners themselves. Evans takes over a parish where convicted and murdered pedophile priest John Geoghan served twice, during much of the 1980s and into the early 1990s.

"Above all, we're hoping for a new sense of a pastoral leader," said Bill Fallon, coordinator of the St. Julia Healing Group, which was formed late in the spring of 2002 in response to the sexual abuse crisis.

"And he is pastoral.

"He has been interested in what we're doing at the Healing Group. He's been to both of the meetings we've had since he's been on board. He contributes, and he is respectful, helpful, sensitive and communicative.

"I almost can't believe our good fortune."

Susan Bayard, who has been the pastoral associate at St. Julia since the mid-1990s, echoes Fallon's sentiments.

"The congregation here is at the stage of being hopeful," she said of St. Julia, which has been likened to ground zero in the priest sexual abuse scandal of the past two years or so.

"There are, of course, other churches in the Boston diocese where there were perpetrators and victims," Bayard said. "But somehow, whenever something happened someplace else, the news crews came to the front of our church to interview people in our congregation."

St. Julia, she added, lost both attendance and contributions as a result of the scandal.

"And we certainly went through a lot of anger and feelings of betrayal," she said. "These negative emotions are still there, to be sure. You don't just turn a corner and expect them to be gone. At the same time, though, Father Evans is a good man for us in the sense that he's a good preacher, has strong spirituality and depth, and he has a pastoral side, which is something we really need right now."

Evans, who speaks of the work before him quietly and thoughtfully, seems up to the task. He is particularly excited to be part of a local parish after nearly two decades of seminary work.

"I have to be a part of this parish's present and future," he said. "I bring a perspective that is broader than just this particular church. And, at the same time, I don't bring a perspective of seeing this parish in its past or even in its details in the present. So, as a new pastor, I think a very important role is to listen."

During the installation Mass, O'Malley spoke of the Roman Catholic Church as one of "forgiveness and of a second chance." And, in his brief concluding remarks, Evans emphasized that one of the most important things that a pastor can do for his church involves developing a sense of trust.

"This is especially important in view of the fact that the past few years have been tough," he said referring to the sexual abuse crisis, which has been particularly severe in Boston and in which St. Julia's has been of particular interest.

Evans, 52, is a native of Somerville. He was ordained in 1977 by Cardinal Humberto Medeiros at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, and served as the parochial vicar of St. James the Great Parish, Wellesley/Natick until 1981. He was appointed to St. Julia earlier this year by acting Bishop Richard Lennon and celebrated his first Masses at the church over the second weekend of September.

He comes to Weston with a doctorate in sacred spirituality from the Catholic University of America and after serving for 18 years as a member of the faculty and spiritual director of St. John's Seminary in Brighton.

He likens his role at St. Julia to that of an orchestra conductor -- "or rather as an assistant conductor to Christ, who is on the scene, who takes the gifts of the community, draws them out, orders them, even holds some back, so that the whole harmony will happen," he said. "I think this is a particularly beautiful image because it implies that everybody has gifts to share."

Evans said he feels that all Christians, Roman Catholic or not, have a role to play in the church.

"Every baptized Christian is somehow related to every other one. It is one great church and one Christ we are part of."

He looks forward to the work of rebuilding and continuing the church, and he says, "rebuilding whatever may have gotten tired or shoddy and continuing whatever is good."

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