April 11, 2022
By Kevin Cullen
St. Brendan, one of Dorchester’s great Catholic churches, seems destined to close next month. Parishioners feel like they are paying for the sins of others.
Noreen Kelley always sits in the same pew for Sunday Mass at St. Brendan, halfway up the church, on the right side.
It’s where her mother, Rosemary O’Brien, always sat. It’s where her grandmother, Nonie Sullivan, always sat.
Noreen Kelley’s grandmother was a longtime parishioner at the church that opened in 1933, at the height of the Depression. Her mother was in the first graduating class at St. Brendan School. Her three daughters became the fourth generation of their family to worship at St. Brendan Church.
They will probably be the last. St. Brendan, one of the great Catholic churches of Dorchester, has been designated by its pastor for so-called relegation, which sounds more like the fate of an underperforming soccer team than a neighborhood institution that means so much to so many.
“The worst part,” Kelley said, “is that this is so unnecessary.”
The church’s future now lies in the hands of Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, but the current pastor, the Rev. Chris Palladino, has recommended the church be closed, citing declining attendance and $1.6 million in repairs needed over the next 18 months. Whatever Cardinal O’Malley decides, Father Palladino said there will be no more services after May 31.
In 2018, St. Brendan was merged with St. Ann’s, a mile away in Neponset, to form the new parish of St. Martin de Porres. Father Palladino says St. Ann’s can easily accommodate those who nowattend Mass at St. Brendan.
But parishioners like Kelley say talking about St. Brendan as if it is nothing more than a building fails to appreciate that it has its own distinct history and culture, that families measure their lives and every signature stage in those lives — birth, marriage, death — wrapped in the comforting arms of a space and a spirituality that can’t simply be moved like furniture.
Kelley believes the beginning of the end of St. Brendan began 20 years ago, when the Archdiocese was roiled by the massive coverup of sexual abuse of minors by priests. In the 20 years that followed, she said, St. Brendan has had a dozen pastors, with needed maintenance not deferred so much as ignored.
“Our parish has never been able to fully heal and move on,” she said.
In a letter to Cardinal O’Malley, first reported by Bill Forry in The Dorchester Reporter, Father Palladino echoed that sentiment.
“Your Eminence,” he wrote, “I must communicate to you the pain and anger my Parishioners have toward you and the Archdiocese that they find themselves in this situation which they believe could have been avoided. I invite you to consider celebrating Mass at St. Brendan Church and to pastorally address those who feel abandoned. They will remind you of the scandalous and evil men that were assigned here in the past that inflicted such pain on generations of the Faithful.”
No man was more scandalous and evil than the predator posing as a priest named John Geoghan. Geoghan was the poster boy for the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Archdiocese. St. Brendan, where he served three years in the early 1980s, was merely one of his myriad postings, as he was moved around by bishops more concerned with protecting the church’s reputation than protecting the bodies and souls of the young people he raped.
Kelley believes Father Palladino, who took over St. Brendan last June, was too quick to give up on saving St. Brendan, too willing to buy into the narrative that there is nothing the Archdiocese can do. She, too, invited Cardinal O’Malley to meet with parishioners.
No word yet on whether the cardinal will say Mass or meet with parishioners.
Father Palladino referred me to Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, who said, “All matters concerning St. Brendan’s are under consideration at the Archdiocese. No decisions have been made as of this time.”
The faithful of St. Brendan are learning, the hard way, that like all vulnerable flocks, they’re only as safe as their shepherds keep them.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.