As Church Doors Shut, City Opens a Window:
Panel Seeks Homes for Human Services

By Kellyanne Mahoney
Boston Globe [Boston]
June 20, 2004

A month after the Catholic archdiocese announced the closing or merger of 16 churches in Boston, the city is taking steps to find homes for the array of human services from Alcoholics Anonymous to food pantries that will be displaced as a result.

This week, a nine-member task force appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino will meet for the first time to oversee the transition of programs based in soon-to-be closed churches.

"Over the next several weeks, we're going to look at each program and find out what each one of the programs does," said Menino. "Some of the groups may want to disband."

But Menino says that he is open to freeing up space in municipal buildings for those that don't. The task force is also charged with finding seats in the Boston Public Schools for students of the city's four Catholic elementary schools that face shuttering.

Alice Hennessey, a special assistant to the mayor, has served as the point person on the project. She says the mayor's office received 50 phone calls alone from people distraught over the closing of one Catholic school the morning after the announcement.

"What [Menino has] told us is to work closely with the communities and the church to mitigate the impact these closings will have," said Hennessey, who lives in West Roxbury and is also a member of the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful. "To that end, we've been brainstorming, sharing information, and opening doors to let those affected know that they have someplace to come and ask for help."

Hennessey says she's seen great progress in the two weeks since the task force was formed: The archdiocese has asked the president of Catholic Charities, the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, to work with the group and has commissioned a study of affected human service programs. And an officer at Harvard Business School has offered the task force volunteer consultations from its alumni.

But even now, Hennessey says, the reverberations of the closings have not yet been gauged. One of the more complex questions she's encountered in task force talks is what impact suburban parish closings will have on the city. For example, Hennessey says she's been told that churches on the closure list in Arlington, South Natick, and Lexington have played major roles in stocking urban food pantries and donating to local charities.

"I knew all along that it was going to be painful," said Hennessey.

Still Hennessey says she finds faith in the expertise of her fellow task force members -- a list that includes Emmanuel College associate professor of sociology Sister Mary Johnson; Manville School director Jim Prince; the mayor's education advisor, Martha Pierce; and Tram Tran and John Barros, leaders in the city's Vietnamese and Cape Verdean communities.

Menino has also appointed the following members: Mary Hines of St. Williams Parish; Meyer Chambers, St. John-St. Hugh choir master; and Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero of East Boston.


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