Diocese to Close More Churches

By Ken Ross
The Republican

August 11, 2008

AGAWAM - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield intends to close churches in Agawam, South Deerfield, Adams and North Adams, a spokesman for the diocese confirmed yesterday.

These are in addition to two churches in West Springfield whose closures were announced Saturday.

"I just want to sit down and cry," Elsie B. Cascella, of West Springfield, said Sunday standing in the parking lot of Sacred Heart Church on Springfield Street. "It's heartbreaking."

Cascella is a member of St. Theresa's Church on Bridge Street in Agawam, which is also known as All Saints Parish. Cascella had just attended Mass at Sacred Heart Church, where Masses are being held this summer for both churches. The Rev. Steven C. Amo, who serves as the priest for both churches, announced the closure of St. Theresa's Church, which will take place on Jan. 1 next year.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Amo read a letter aloud during Mass from Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell about the church closure. The letter also stated that other closures were being announced this weekend throughout Western Massachusetts.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield also confirmed Sunday that churches will be closed in Adams and North Adams but would not specify which churches.

After the church service Sunday at Sacred Heart Church in Agawam, Amo said he was instructed by the diocese not to comment.

A press conference will be held Monday at 10:30 a.m. at the diocese regarding all the churches affected by church reconfigurations.

On Saturday, parishioners at St. Ann's and St. Louis de France churches in West Springfield learned their churches will be closed and combined with Immaculate Conception Parish to create the new St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish.

On Sunday, Mark E. Dupont, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, declined to provide details about the various church closings and mergers, saying all the changes will be explained at Monday's press conference. However, Dupont did say that new parishes were being created in South Deerfield, Adams and North Adams due to the church reconfiguration plan. He said churches will close in those three communities.

"There have been a number of parishes today that have learned they will be closing," Dupont said.

Phone calls placed to six churches in Adams and North Adams were not returned Sunday.

The announcement of the closure of St. Theresa's Church in Agawam saddened many people Sunday outside Sacred Heart Church.

"It was bound to happen, but it's a shame," said Peter J. Milanese of Agawam, a member of Sacred Heart Church.

"I feel bad for these people," fellow Sacred Heart Church member Joan E. Fontaine of the Feeding Hills section of Agawam said.

Cascella's son, Michael, who lives in West Springfield and attends St. Theresa's Church, was equally saddened by the closure announcement. Asked if he would continue to attend church at Sacred Heart Church, Michael Cascella said, "I have no idea what I'm going to do."

His mother then said, "I'll come here as long as I can." But eventually, Elsie Cascella said she will likely attend church at St. Thomas in West Springfield, which is closer to her home.

News of St. Theresa's Church closure came as a shock to residents who live near the brick church built in 1927. "I'm surprised they're closing it," said neighbor Gary P. Nardullo, who sometimes attends Mass at the church. "A lot of older people depend on the church."

"That's really awful," said Brenda A. Grimaldi, who lives directly next door to the church. "I'm used to the church bells every morning."

Grimaldi also noted that Amo spends a lot of time maintaining the church and keeping the building and surrounding gardens looking immaculate. "I see him working so hard to keep it up."

In the past year, the diocese has announced church closings or consolidations in five out of 10 regions the diocese represents, Dupont said. By early 2009, more consolidations or possible closures will be announced for the remaining five regions covered by it.

The closures announced this weekend are due to a mixture of decreasing attendance and mounting financial pressures, Dupont said.

"Many of our parishes have fewer Catholics," Dupont said. "And certainly, there are compelling financial reasons."



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