Four Parishes, One Day of Pain
Shock and Anger As Lowell Churches Face News of Closure

By Lisa Redmond
Lowell Sun
June 28, 2004

LOWELL As Dr. Maria Cuesta stood outside Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church yesterday after Mass, one word described her reaction to plans to close her beloved church "devastated."

"It took 35 years for them to allow us to open this church," Cuesta said, her voice quivering in anger and pain. "Now we will lose our identity."

During Sunday morning Mass, hundreds of Catholic parishioners in four city neighborhoods learned that the Archdiocese of Boston struggling to cope with fewer priests, lower attendance and dwindling donations will close their churches.

On Saturday night, Nuestra Senora del Carmen in the Acre, St. Louis de France in Centralville, Notre Dame de Lourdes in the Lower Highlands, and Ste. Jeanne d'Arc in Pawtucketville were told they will be shuttered.

The fate of five other Lowell parishes remains uncertain.


Altar boys walk with the cross at the end of Mass yesterday morning at Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church, one of four Catholic parishes in Lowell slated for closure by the Archdiocese of Boston.



While the time line for closing some of the churches is undecided, the Rev. Scott Euvrard of St. Louis de France said he expects his 100-year-old church to close around Aug. 26.

"I don't like it," said Joseph Lajoie, 79, a lifelong parishioner at St. Louis. "When this church closes I'm not going to church anymore... . They don't care about the people, only the dollars. Plenty of people are mad about it."

While some churches will close outright, some will merge with other churches. Nuestra Senora del Carmen will merge with St. Patrick's Church a move parishioners fought.

Nuestra Senora parishioners have known for a while their church was a target, because of the estimated $1 million it would cost to fix it. But that parish wanted to merge with Notre Dame de Lourdes, which is also on the list for closure.

"I have no problem with the church being closed. It was the process that was unfair," said Cuesta, who was denied a meeting with the bishop to plead her church's case.

Fourteen years ago, Cuesta was one of those passionate parishioners who convinced the archdiocese to let them take this once-closed Franco-American church and reopen it as Nuestra Senora, the only church in Lowell with Masses in Spanish.

"Now we will be a tenant again in another church," she said.

Cuesta said she fled Cuba because of its politics. Now she faces politics in a church she help build.

She fears that many people may leave the Catholic church.

"You cut the roots of the tree and the tree dies," she said.

Rev. James Taggart of Nuestra Senora said he's heard "a lot of sadness and bitter feelings" from his parishioners about the closing.

"This church is more than just a church, it is the center of the Spanish community," he said. "I can only hope we remain united and the transition is as peaceful and as fruitful as possible."

John Sierra of Lowell said he's been a parishioner at Nuestra Senora for 13 years, watching his two children get baptized and earn First Communion there. He said he feels forced to go to St. Patrick's.

"I have no choice," he said. Churches in Lawrence offer Masses in Spanish, he said, "but Lawrence is too far."

Carlos Rojo, also of Lowell, was married at Nuestra Senora and his children also were baptized there. He says he is sad the church is closing, "but that's life. We need to continue to work for the church."

At Ste. Jeanne d'Arc yesterday, Lisa Skaff said her church is sound both financially and structurally. "I don't understand why ours was chosen," she said.

As her husband, Steve, held their 17-month old daughter, Skaff said, "We are the young faces the church is trying to get back. ... I'm upset and I'm mad."

Sandi Gallagher of Dracut said she was "totally shocked" when she read yesterday's paper and saw Ste. Jeanne d'Arc was slated to close. The only bright spot was the church's school, which her 10-year-old son attends, will remain open. But the school may also suffer because much of its fund raising is done through the church.

"I just hate the message this sends to children," Gallagher said. "You build and support something and it can be pulled out from under you. ... It's not about religion, it's about money."


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