Catholic Church Nixes 10 Parishes

By Gearge Graham
The Republican

August 12, 2008

SPRINGFIELD - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield will shutter 10 more parishes and nine buildings by Jan. 1 as it continues a major restructuring to deal with declining congregations and financial hardships.

The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell on Monday made formal the closure plans which had been announced during the weekend at Masses in parishes across four regions of the sprawling diocese that covers the state's four western counties.

Still to be announced are reorganization plans for parishes in Hampshire County, Chicopee, Holyoke, Springfield and the Palmer-Ware area. The diocese announced plans in February to close five of Pittsfield's nine parishes and a mission church there.

The latest announcement made public the closings of churches in Agawam, North Adams and the villages of South Deerfield and Millers Falls in Montague. When the closings are complete, 100 churches and eight missions will remain in the diocese.

More churches could be closed in these three regions, it was warned in the reports prepared by the diocese, if the number of priests falls below projected levels or if the Catholic missions which staff some of the churches are unable to provide priests in the future.

The bishop said assets from the closed churches will remain with their community parishes. "This will help parishes to overcome their needs," McDonnell said, adding that 40 percent of the diocese's parishes are currently operating in the red.

McDonnell stressed that nothing can take away parishioners' memories of the churches and buildings they have long known and loved. "The memories can't be taken away, and we carry our memories with us," McDonnell said.

The changes, McDonnell said, will put a different face on the diocese. "But I believe it will be a face that has a new vitality."

He acknowledged the closures will be painful but stressed a new vitality will spring from the consolidations.

"We have been putting money into the buildings rather than the people," McDonnell said. "I am looking for a critical mass at Mass."

McDonnell accepted the recommendations of the Pastoral Planning Committee for four regions within the diocese, including Franklin County, the Agawam-West Springfield-Westfield area, North Adams-Adams and the southern Berkshire region that includes the Lee and Great Barrington area.

"We mark this as halfway through a very difficult but thorough process," said Mark E. Dupont, diocesan spokesman.

Changes, set for Jan. 1, include the closing of All Saints parish and its two church buildings in Agawam. All Saints was formed in 2000 from the merger of St. Anthony and St. Therese.

West Springfield will see the closure of St. Louis de France and St. Ann mission churches. Immaculate Conception will be retained with a newly named parish to be formed, including St. Louis de France and St. Ann's.

All parishes in Westfield will remain as currently configured as long as the number of diocesan priests available for assignment does not fall below projections, the council recommended.

That marked a major reprieve for one parish, Holy Trinity Church, Westfield's traditionally Polish church, which had been recommended for closure more than a year ago in a plan proposed by the University of Massachusetts' Center for Economic Development. Staffed by priests from the LaSalette order, the report cautions that Holy Trinity should remain as long as the order can station pastors there.

The Westfield report also warned that the merged St. Peter-St. Casimir church could be on the chopping block in the future if the number of priests in the diocese declines.

Greenfield's church community will also remain untouched.

The Pastoral Planning Committee, meanwhile, recommended the two parishes in South Deerfield, St. Stanislaus and St. James, continue to work toward a merger as soon as possible. It also recommends that St. Mark remain a mission.

The recommendation calls for the parish of St. Joseph in Shelburne Falls and its two missions, St. Christopher in Charlemont and St. John in Colrain, to stay as is for now.

The St. Joseph parish is, in area, the largest parish in the diocese. Although some, during diocesan listening sessions, suggested that one of the missions might be closed, the outgoing pastor strongly recommended against closing both. An incoming pastor there will be given latitude to assess the mission question at St. Joseph.

In Montague, meanwhile, the diocese recommended closing St. John Church in the village of Millers Falls as soon as is practicable.

The closing of her church is devastating, said Pauline P. Klepadlo who grew up in St. John's. "It's heartbreak."

Her family life has long been intertwined with the life of St. John's with baptisms, Holy Communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals celebrated there, said Klepadlo, who was married there in 1963.

"We had real good times," Klepadlo said of St. John's, which once had two parish priests and a mission in Erving.

She said she's not sure what area church she will join once the church closes at the beginning of next year. For now, she's still dealing with the sense of loss for her church. "It's very sad," she said.

Elizabeth A. Kolasinski, of St. James parish in Deerfield, said no one should have been surprised by the news that the church is to close since there has been much dialogue about the diocese's plans. "It's OK. We've known this (closing) was coming," she said. "This is a small community. We don't need two open (Catholic) churches."

She said parishioners will join what will be a new parish, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. The parish church will be the one now called St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Church located just a few blocks from St. James Church.

Blessed Kateri is the first American Indian to be beatified, one of the steps toward being named a saint. "It's going to be wonderful," Kolasinski said, "with our Deerfield native American background."

Although the UMass study had recommended Our Lady of Peace in Montague be linked with St. Patrick parish in Northfield, the committee recommended the linking not occur unless it becomes unfeasible for the diocese to maintain a resident pastor in Northfield.

If that time comes for Northfield, however, the committee recommends that the diocese give consideration to assigning a deacon, religious or lay person as administrator.

In the Lee region, the diocese recommended the All Saints and Corpus Christi parishes in the Housatonic section of Great Barrington merge, closing one of the buildings and establishing a new name.

The churches in Lenox, Lenox Dale, and West Stockbridge are to remain for at least the time being; the council warned, however, that St. Vincent de Paul parish in Lenox Dale should be closed if the number of priests in the region declines.

Current configurations for Sheffield, Monterey and New Marlborough will also be maintained. However, if the number of priests drops below expected levels, Our Lady of the Valley in Sheffield could lose its current priest.

The North Adams region recommendation calls for merging the town of Adams' two parishes into one. North American Martyrs in Lanesborough, meanwhile, should be closed considering its limited seating capacity, modest attendance and reasonable proximity to the parishes in Cheshire, Dalton and Pittsfield.

In North Adams, the parishes of St. Anthony, St. Francis and Our Lady of Mercy are to be merged into one parish. The St. Francis and Our Lady of Mercy buildings are to be closed.

Cori Urban contributed to this report.



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