Springfield Church Receives Respite from Diocese

By Emma Stickgold
Boston Globe
September 19, 2010

Kelly Tracy's great-grandfather was among a handful of Polish immigrants who helped to open the Immaculate Conception Parish when it was founded in 1904.

She was confirmed, married, and had her son baptized in the Springfield church.

For just over a year, since the Diocese of Springfield announced plans to merge Immaculate Conception with a nearby parish building, the 38-year-old mother and her fellow parishioners have been waiting to learn the fate of their beloved church.

At yesterday's 4 p.m. Mass, a letter from the diocese was read, announcing that their church would remain open.

"Everyone was ecstatic, but initially, I think, people were thinking it wasn't going to be good news because our priest was playing it kind of cool," said Tracy last night.

As soon as the Rev. Dariusz Wudarski read the last paragraph of the letter containing the respite, "People were crying, and afterwards, it was a big, hug-fest," Tracy said, adding, "It has been a long year."

Immaculate Conception parishioners were notified in August 2009 that a recent decline in attendance and other factors put them on a list of parishes that would likely be forced to merge or close.

Last November, officials from the diocese gave the church an extension until June 30, to allow them to present a plan to improve the parish's prospects.

Tracy said the idea of the church closing was unfathomable to many of the Polish immigrant parishioners who fled religious oppression, and enjoyed celebrating Mass in their native language thousands of miles from their homeland.

Like many parishes around the nation faced with the threat of mergers and closures, parishioners formed a committee, Save Immaculate Conception Church, formed, and established Facebook and Twitter groups.

But what ultimately helped them keep their doors open was boosting their membership -- about 50 families joined, Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the diocese said.

"They made a very good argument and had a very realistic plan," Dupont said.

Part of that plan is a move to take the defunct school building directly behind the church and turn it into a child-care center, he said.

"Bishop [Timothy A. McDonnell] was very happy to take them off the list and let them continue," Dupont said.

Six years ago, the neighboring Archdiocese of Boston announced it would close 66 parishes. That forced many Boston-area Catholics to find new places to worship and sparked round-the-clock protest vigils -- some of which are still ongoing today.

Dupont said Immaculate Conception still has much to do to keep its doors open for many years to come. "Now the hard work begins," he said yesterday.

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