Parish Reconfigurations in Four Areas Announced This Weekend

By Terence Hegarty

August 11, 2008

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SPRINGFIELD Ė Eleven churches will close within the next five months throughout four areas of the Diocese of Springfield according to plans announced to parishioners in those four areas at weekend Masses beginning yesterday.

Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell decided earlier this week, after consultation with the Presbyteral Council, to implement the changes, which were recommended by the diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee (PPC).

The changes, which involve closings and mergers, will occur in southern and northern Berkshire County; Franklin County; and the Agawam, West Springfield and Westfield areas. Details of the reconfigurations were announced during Masses yesterday and will continue to be announced at all Sunday liturgies.

All of the changes are due to be implemented by Jan. 1, 2009.

The diocese will conduct a morning press conference in Springfield on Monday, Aug. 11 to discuss the changes and answer questions from the media.

The changes, listed below, are presented by region (the groups the diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee divided the diocese into as they conducted their analyses).

Only the parishes where changes are being implemented are detailed here. The changes for each region are as follows:

Region 1, North Adams Region

In Adams, the merged Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish are to be merged. The report recommends that the resulting parish entity "consolidate the existing structures." The parishes are presently linked, sharing one pastor.

North American Martyrs Parish in Lanesborough will close.

St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Cheshire will remain open. However, the report states, "In the event that the number of priests falls below expectation, St. Mary would lose its resident priest."

In North Adams, the parishes of St. Anthony, St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Mercy will be merged into one parish with a new name. St. Francis and Our Lady of Mercy church buildings will close and the St. Anthony facilities are to become the main worship and ministerial site.

Region 3, Lee Region

In Housatonic, All Saints and Corpus Christi parishes will be merged into one parish with a new name and will utilize one church building.

St. Joseph Parish in Stockbridge will become a mission of St. Mary Mother of the Church Parish in Lee.

In the communities of Lenox, Lenox Dale and West Stockbridge, the current configuration is to remain. The report states, however, "If the number of priests serving South Berkshire County declines below expectations, then the parish in Lenox Dale (St. Vincent de Paul) should be closed if the pastor is required to minister to an additional community."

In Sheffield, the committee stated that "if the number of priests drops below expected levels, Our Lady of the Valley could lose its resident pastor."

Region 4, Greenfield Region

In Millers Falls, St. John Parish will close.

Concerning Turners Falls, the Pastoral Planning Committee stated in their report that it "believes that the community in Turners Falls is best served by one resident pastor." (There are currently two pastors there, one each at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish and Our Lady of Peace Parish.) However, the report did not specify a date when this change should occur, stating only, "We recommend that the parishes in Turners Falls work toward the day when there is one resident pastor."

The areas of Shelburne Falls, Charlemont and Colrain were addressed without a deadline or specifics for change. The report took into consideration that a new pastor had recently been assigned to the one parish (St. Josephís in Shelburne Falls) and the missions of St. Christopherís in Charlemont and St. Johnís in Colrain.

Referring to the fact that the closing of one or both of the missions had been considered, the report states, "We recommend that the incoming pastor be given the pastoral latitude to assess the mission question for himself in consultation with the affected communities."

In South Deerfield, St. Stanislaus and St. James parishes will be merged. The new parish will utilize one set of buildings and adopt a new name. St. Mark Mission in Conway (currently a mission of St. James Parish) is to remain a mission of the merged parish.

Region 10, Agawam Region

In Agawam, All Saints Parish, which utilizes two church buildings, will be closed.

In Westfield, the committee recommended that all parishes in Westfield remain as currently configured "as long as the number of diocesan priests available for assignment does not fall beneath projections. If it does," the report continues, "we recommend that St. Peter/St. Casimir be considered for closing."

In West Springfield, St. Louis de France Parish and St. Ann Mission will be closed.

"It is apparent to us," the committee wrote in the Region 10 report, "that retaining Immaculate Conception as the parish for this area (of West Springfield) is the best option. "We strongly advise that there be a new name for this parish and that it strive to incorporate the cultural heritage of the former parish/mission communities."

Regarding Chester, Huntington and Russell, the report states that the two parishes and one mission in that cluster that are currently being served by one priest "remain as currently configured unless the number of available diocesan priests declines beyond projections. If that were to occur, we recommend that an alternative staffing arrangement be considered."

Director of pastoral planning for the diocese, Msgr. John J. Bonzagni, said the changes are necessary so that the future of the Catholic Church in the diocese will be secure.

However, he did not dismiss the pain that many of these changes will inevitably cause. "Like a deathÖ People need time to grieve, they need comfort and assurance," Msgr Bonzagni told The Catholic Observer.

"But, I think, people will find that the result (of the reconfigurations) will be a much more secure footing. Parishes will be able to do things that they canít do now because theyíre living hand to mouth, not just financially but ministerially."

He noted that while some of the decisions of the committee were difficult, after thorough input from both parishioners and priests of each area, and much of their own analysis, the decisions were often "the only things that made sense, both financially and spiritually."

Msgr. Bonzagni said he wants to be sure that people know that even though their ideas about reconfiguration of parishes may not have been implemented, their concerns were taken into account.

"We canít meet with everybody," he said. "But people need to know that their ideas havenít been left out (of the process). Itís important for people to know that thereís no idea that hasnít been voiced."

Voices were heard through what the PPC called "listening sessions" which began last fall in the diocese. As part of the pastoral planning process, each region will have two listening sessions at which Msgr. Bonzagni and PPC members hear the input of parishioners and clergy. One session, in which pastors, clergy and pastoral leaders participate, is held. And then another session, for lay representatives of each parish in the region, is conducted. Nearly all of the listening sessions for all 10 regions of the diocese have been conducted.

There is one more set of listening sessions to be held, which is for the Ware Region. Some of the parishes from the Springfield Region will be included in that session.

With the completion of these four reports and the Pittsfield region, the PPC still has five regional reports to write and submit to Bishop McDonnell.

Msgr. Bonzagni said the other regions are in various stages of the pastoral planning process and that reports will be released as they are completed.

The Catholic Communications Corporation will be providing ongoing coverage of this story, including feedback from parishioners, on

(Editorís note: Reporter Terence Hegarty is a member of the Pastoral Planning Committee.)


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