Norwich Diocese: Tears Flow over Plans for Churches

By Dustin Racioppi
Norwich Bulletin

July 23, 2008

The collective grumbling Monday night at St. Joseph Church wasn’t so much because the parish will combine with St. Stephen and with Sacred Heart Mission Church in September.

And the tears shed by some of the nearly 100 parishioners in the basement at St. Joseph in North Grosvenordale weren’t because there will be fewer Masses celebrated.

The frustration, tears and anger were for St. Stephens’ priest, the Rev. Arul Peter, who will no longer be part of the local parish.

Peter is one of many priests with a future of service in an uncertain place, after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich announced this month it will close five churches in the Putnam Deanery and combine several others because of a priest shortage.

At an informational meeting on the process Monday night, St. Stephen parishioners fought to save their priest, who has been there less than two years.

St. Stephen and Sacred Heart are "yoking" with St. Joseph — meaning the two parishes will merge with St. Joseph and share three priests. But Peter won’t be among them.

"We’ve had him for two years, and he put this place back together. And now they’re taking him away from us," said Betty LeClair, who received communion, confirmation and was married at St. Stephen.

Since he was brought in as priest of St. Stephens in 2006, Peter has started a children’s choir, catechism classes, flea markets, holiday plays and, most importantly to Denise Dias of Massachusetts, "he restored your faith.

Peter was overwhelmed and admittedly embarrassed that the meeting turned into an outpouring of support for him.

"When I came to Quinebaug, I knew nobody. But I was immediately accepted by the people," he said. Parishioners plan to take their plea to a higher authority.

Kathy Mitchell is circulating a petition, already with 170 signatures, that she plans to send to the Most Rev. Michael Cote, bishop of Norwich, and to bishops at dioceses in Boston, New York and Hartford.

Jennifer Robidoux of Woodstock said the yoking and closing of churches is unfair enough, but to take away the bedrock of the church is heart-wrenching.

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