Faithful at Doomed Churches Look for Anything but Closure

By Brian Ballou, Thomas Caywood and Max Heuer
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
May 31, 2004

In the first Sunday Masses since Catholic parish closures were announced last week, pastors and parishioners of doomed churches vowed not to go quietly.

"The closing of this parish is a violation of my conscience," said the Rev. Robert Bowers of St. Catherine of Siena in Charlestown, who read his appeal letter aloud to his heavy-hearted congregation.

In South Boston, the Rev. Stephen Zukas of St. Peter's Lithuanian Parish said he also planned to appeal his church's closing, although he wasn't especially optimistic of a reprieve.

"I expect the archbishop to read our appeal with an open mind and heart," Zukas said.

In Dedham, St. Susanna Parish's pastor, the Rev. Stephen Josoma, told his flock that Archbishop Sean O'Malley has agreed to visit the church and personally explain his decision to close it.

"I'm not sure that it will change anything but we're ready to give it a try," Josoma told the Sunday congregation of about 500.

A parishioner of 28 years said she's had a hard time sleeping since hearing last week that St. Susanna is one of 65 parishes slated for closure. "My heart and mind cannot accept this decision, and I hope when the archbishop comes, he will see how we feel," said the woman, who asked to be identifed only by her first name, Maria.

When asked at the end of service who would like to proceed with contesting the closure, the entire parish stood.

In Charlestown, after listening solemnly as their pastor read aloud his letter of appeal, parishioners at St. Catherine saluted Bowers with a standing ovation. He wiped away tears as the thunderous applause echoed under the century-old church's soaring vaulted ceiling.

Parishioners peppered Bowers with questions, some wondering if the closure was payback for their pastor's outspoken criticism of O'Malley's predecessor, Bernard Cardinal Law.

"I don't want to believe the archdiocese retaliates against priests," said Bowers, who nonetheless noted that O'Malley is surrounded by Law's former inner circle.

In a letter notifying Bowers St. Catherine would be closed, O'Malley cited dwindling numbers of worshippers and its nearness to two other parishes in Charlestown.

Parishioners stood in the aisles after the service making plans to circulate petitions and to demand O'Malley face them.

Parishioner Peter Borre, who blasted the planned closure as a shortsighted snub of Charlestown's immigrant community, said he would take on the job of organizing the petition drive.

"This is a very unwise strategic decision," Borre said.


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