Diocese Drops the Hammer in Adams, N. Adams

By Meghan Foley
North Adams Transcript

August 12, 2008

ADAMS -- At St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Mercy in North Adams, parishioners were silent, while at St. Stanislaus Kostka in Adams, they gasped following an announcement that the Diocese of Springfield will close those three parishes and St. Thomas Aquinas in Adams no later than Jan. 1, 2009.

The St. Francis, Our Lady and St. Thomas closings have long been expected, but word that the Catholic community in Adams will lose the 103-year old St. Stanislaus came as a surprise, even though the church's school will stay open, according to the diocese.

Long-time St. Stanislaus parishioner Josephine Trimarchi said that prior to an announcement at the 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday, no one had known the church was closing.

"They're all in shock," Trimarchi said Sunday afternoon of the congregation.

"I'm heartbroken and very, very sad," a parishioner at Saint Stanislaus who did not want to be named, said Sunday night.

Last year, the walkway and stairs in front of the church were repaired, and a new roof was put on the rectory.

"And now they are closing the church after doing all that work," Trimarchi said.

Mary Cook, a teacher at St. Stanislaus School, said she saw the church closings coming for North Adams but was very upset about the closing of St. Stan's.

"I could see it coming for St. Francis but not for St. Stan's," she said following the 5:30 p.m. Mass at Our Lady of Mercy.

A letter from Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of the Diocese of Springfield was read as part of the Saturday and Sunday services at parishes in North Adams and Adams.

According to the letter, St. Francis and Our Lady of Mercy will close and merge with St. Anthony of Padua in North Adams under the name of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The letter stated this will be done no later than Jan. 1, 2009. The three parishes are currently served by the Rev. William F. Cyr, who could not be reached for comment.

"I think it saddens all of us," Lorraine Maloney of North Adams said as she was leaving the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Francis.

Several parishioners have been working for more than a year to try to keep St. Francis open despite a recommendation by the Mullin Report -- a study by the University of Massachusetts Center for Economic Development commissioned by the diocese -- that St. Anthony's church and parish center should be the one remaining Catholic church in North Adams.

In Adams, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Stanislaus Kostka will close and merge with Notre Dame des Sept Delours under a new name that the diocese did not immediately have available. The parishes are served by the Rev. Daniel J. Boyle, who also was unavailable for comment

The diocese will hold a news conference with Msgr. John J. Bonzagni, director of pastoral planning, Monday at 10:30 a.m. in Springfield to discuss the church closures in further detail. According to a brief announcement from the diocese Saturday, Bishop McDonnell accepted the recommendations of the Pastoral Planning Committee for four regions, including North Berkshire and South Berkshire. The other two regions include all Franklin County and the cities of Agawam, Westfield, and West Springfield and the towns of Chester, Huntington, Russell and Southwick. Word on church closings in other communities was not immediately available. Pittsfield received word earlier this year that six of its 10 Catholic churches would close.

Diocese spokesman Mark E. Dupont said Sunday night that it is disappointing whenever a parish has to close, but the diocese has to look objectively at the costs to maintain the churches, the number of available priests and the number of people attending a church.

"This was a very through and very complete decision," he said.

Many members of St. Francis said they were unhappy that their church, which was built in 1863, will have to close.

"I'm not happy with it," Charles Kelly of Clarksburg said following 10:30 a.m. Mass.

He said St. Anthony's is too small to host Easter and Christmas services, and St. Francis should be kept because it has the largest seating capacity of the North Adams Catholic churches. He said the diocese could have kept two churches open in the city.

However, McDonnell's letter stated, "There is no question that one parish is sufficient for the Catholic community of North Adams."

People attending Our Lady of Mercy were upset by the announcement, but some said they believed it was in the best interest of the city's churches.

"It's sad, but ultimately I think he (the bishop) made the right decision," said Stephanie Avienu of North Adams.

Richard J. Alcombright, a member of the North Adams Catholic Community's finance committee, said he was surprised by the announcement about St. Stanislaus.

"I feel bad for the people who are very emotionally connected to their parish," he said. "But if we look ahead five, eight, 10 years, I think we're going to have a much stronger Catholic community because of the closure -- consolidation."

Following Mass at Our Lady of Mercy, Deacon Bruce J. Ziter, who read the bishop's letter, said it was nice to know what will happen after months of waiting.

"I think the consensus is, people are relieved that a decision has been made finally," Ziter said.

He said the consolidation process for the parishes in North Adams has actually been going on for many years. In 1997, Our Lady of Incarnation and Holy Family merged to form Our Lady of Mercy Parish, and Notre Dame closed, merging with St. Francis.

Two of the three remaining churches in North Adams currently host one weekend service, while St. Anthony hosts two, and then weekday services. In 1990 the Williamstown Catholic churches of St. Raphael's and St. Patrick's formed the parish of Sts. Partick and Raphael. The Rev. Mark J. Burke announced in October 2006 that St. Raphael's would close. Burke told his parishioners Sunday to lend their support to Catholics in neighboring communities because they would need it.

After reading the letter at St. Francis Sunday morning, Ziter said, "I ask that we begin anew and pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom ... in the days ahead."


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