Diocese to Close Five Churches
Parishes Were Facing 'Serious Decline'

By Jacqueline Reis
Telegram & Gazette
May 18, 2008

[With link to letter from Bishop Robert J. McManus to parishoners]

WORCESTER — Five Worcester churches will close July 1, the Diocese of Worcester announced in a letter read at afternoon Masses yesterday.

Notre Dame des Canadiens and Holy Name of Jesus churches will close and merge with St. Joseph Church to form Holy Family Parish located at St. Joseph's; St. Casimir and Ascension parishes will be folded into the St. John Church parish, the mother church of the diocese; and St. Margaret Mary Church will close and its parish will be merged with St. Anne Church in Shrewsbury.

St. Casimir will continue to hold a Sunday Mass in Lithuanian for another year and will be available for occasional daily use for funerals.

The changes were the recommendation of the Pastoral Planning Committee that visited every parish and conducted focus groups, according to the letter from Bishop Robert J. McManus. Their goal was to determine which parishes were "pastorally vibrant, which were struggling with the full breadth of parish life," and which "were facing a serious decline in population and sacramental activity, particularly if they no longer had a distinct ethnic population to serve."

"The bishop is not the villain here. He took two or three years to make these decisions from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. "

The Rev. Patrick J. Hawthorne, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church, ON THE CHURCH CLOSINGS ANNOUNCED YESTERDAY BY BISHOP ROBERT J. MCMANUS

The parishioners at Notre Dame des Canadiens' 4 p.m. Mass yesterday seemed to know they were in the last category. Although several said they were disappointed by the announcement, no one seemed surprised. They said it had been years since the church had a Mass in French, and only about 35 people were in the pews yesterday.

"It was inevitable that it was going to happen," said Robert Randell, who has belonged to the church for 30 years. It's sad, he said, but he also saw a silver lining: People won't be struggling to keep declining churches going, and those churches that remain will be more vibrant, he said.

Sun streamed through the Notre Dame's beautiful stained-glass windows yesterday, but those windows are in walls with peeling paint and with plaster missing in sections.

In 1993, Notre Dame was supposed to absorb the members of St. Joseph Church, which was to close. Members of St. Joseph's occupied the church until a court ordered them evicted; in 1996, the diocese reopened the church. The two churches merged into a single parish and share a pastor, the Rev. Richard G. Roger. Now it is Notre Dame that will close, but no one mentioned any resistance yesterday.

Rev. Roger will be the pastor at Holy Family under the reorganization. Some priests will have new assignments, although the Rev. Richard A. Jakubauskas will stay with St. Casimir for the year, according to Raymond L. Delisle, vice chancellor of operations for the diocese. The diocese traditionally gives priests their assignments in June.


Letter from Bishop Robert J. McManus to parishoners (PDF, 132k)

The Rev. Patrick J. Hawthorne, pastor of St. Margaret Mary, told his congregation that he will be going to a much larger church, but he could not announce it yet. He praised the process the bishop used to arrive at the closings.

"The bishop is not the villain here. He took two or three years to make these decisions from the bottom up, rather than from the top down," Rev. Hawthorne said.

Breaking the news about the closure was the second most difficult thing he had ever done, Rev. Hawthorne said yesterday. The first was burying his mother.

The city has 29 churches that together seat more than 14,000 people. There are 21,960 registered Catholic households, about a third of which provide regular financial support, according to the bishop's letter.

What happens to the church buildings will be up to the parishes, Mr. Delisle said. Holy Family, for instance, will have all the assets and liabilities of Notre Dame des Canadiens and Holy Name of Jesus. St. John will assume the same for St. Casimir and Ascension.

Some of the changes announced yesterday have more to do with administration than buildings. Our Lady of Fatima and St. Bernard parishes will merge on July 1, sharing both a pastor and parish staff. St. Catherine of Sweden and Sacred Heart of Jesus parishes, which have shared a pastor for a year, will work to merge their staff by 2010.

St. Joan of Arc Parish, on the other hand, will have its own pastor again after sharing one with St. Bernard Parish.

The changes are part of a "first phase of parish reconfiguration."

"I anticipate that after due consultation, additional announcements will be made this fall," Bishop McManus wrote. "Other urban areas of the Diocese will be addressed in the coming year," he wrote.

Those areas will likely include Southbridge and Fitchburg, Mr. Delisle said. Contact Jacqueline Reis by e-mail at


Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.