St. Susanna Parish Council Meets Tuesday: Parishioners Stand behind Josoma, Will Fight Closing

By Priscilla Yeon
Daily News Transcript [Dedham MA]
May 31, 2004

DEDHAM -- When the Rev. Stephen Josoma asked parishioners at yesterday's 10 a.m. Mass who was in favor of doing everything possible to keep St. Susanna Parish open, the 300 in attendance -- including children -- rose as one and then applauded to show their support.

It was the same unanimous response Josoma had received at Saturday's 4 p.m. Mass and yesterday's 8 a.m. service. Josoma said when he had asked if people were ready for the closure and search for a new parish, no one responded.

"I feel much better ever since the 4 o'clock Mass," Josoma said yesterday.

Josoma had shared with each Mass his difficulty in accepting the Archdiocese of Boston's decision to include St. Susanna as one of the 65 parishes to close.

The archdiocese said the closings were financially necessary because of increasing debt, a declining number of priests and parishioners and costly property maintenance bills.

Thursday, Josoma said he met with Archbishop Sean O'Malley and invited him to attend Mass at St. Susanna, at a date to be determined. The pastor said he wanted the archbishop to see for himself what kind of parish he is about to close.

"I just think it's a respectful thing to do," said Josoma. "But I don't know if this will change his mind."

In the weekly bulletin, Josoma addressed the reconfiguration process of the archdiocese and his decision to appeal the closing of St. Susanna.

In a letter to O'Malley, Josoma, along with Deacon Laurence Bloom, questioned the criteria used to determine the closings, such as the financial stability, sacramental indices and conditions of the building.

"The people of this parish cannot accept this decision to close what can only be described as a healthy, viable, fiscally solvent and growing parish community," Josoma and Bloom wrote in the letter.

Josoma said over the last two years, attendance at the church and revenue have both increased some 20 percent, while parishes throughout Massachusetts were faced with the opposite effect.

"None of this (operating in the red) is in this parish," said Josoma.

The records of St. Susanna shows this fiscal year, the church had a net income balance of $38,510 after collecting $270,000 in donations. This year, about 800 families attend the parish, according to Josoma.

Josoma said during Thursday's meeting between O'Malley and priests from parishes to close he asked the arch archbishop if closing St. Susanna had anything to do with "retaliation or real estate" reasons since Josoma is one of the 55 priests who signed a petition last year asking for the removal of Boston Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law.

O'Malley told him he was not aware of the names on that list and didn't think St. Susanna was closing because of Josoma's signature.

"I believe (retaliation) was not a reason," Josoma aid after Mass.

Josoma said a portion of the parish is now assessed at $414,000, but he believes the total 8.5 acres of property are worth significantly more.

At the end of Mass, Josoma invited all parishioners to gather in the church basement for refreshments. The mood led to discussions among parishioners related to the fate of their church.

Kristen Sheehan, a parishioner for 26 years, said both of her sons had their First Communions and confirmations at St. Susanna and one was also baptized there.

"This parish is one of the reasons I moved to this neighborhood," said Sheehan, who moved to Dedham in 1978 and is a member of the church musical. Sheehan said she received the news that her church was closing last week with great sadness.

"I burst into tear," said Sheehan. "I knew we were on the list, but this parish is very special in my life, it's a very special place in my heart."

To many, the sense of a community is what makes St. Susanna's closing a personal loss to parishioners.

Needham resident Neil Swart used to be Jewish but converted to Catholicism last April, after attending St. Susanna for three years.

"People took me as one of their own," said Swart. "From the first day, I felt home, I felt so comfortable."

Diane Nolan, a Dedham resident, said she used to be a parishioner of St. Mary Church in Dedham for 33 years, but joined St. Susanna two years ago after the sexual abuse scandal. Sunday Mass was different this time for Nolan, she said.

"The feeling is always the same, the sense of togetherness, but now there's a feeling of sadness as well," she said.

Josoma said a special Parish Council Meeting is scheduled Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the parish hall, to discuss the church's next steps to appeal the archbishop's decision.


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