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Norwood, Westwood parishes see benefits in collaboration

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WESTWOOD -- For the last two years, the parishes of Westwood and Norwood have collaborated in a Lenten mission and other activities. In doing so, they have joined forces in fostering their common mission -- building up the people of God.

During the 2009 Lenten season and continuing this year, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Timothy Parishes of Norwood and St. Denis and St. Margaret Mary Parishes of Westwood have hosted a combined Lenten mission where parishioners come together to hear a speaker discuss a topic of faith over the course of four days. Each night, a different parish hosts the speaker.

“These kinds of events are wonderful because they have people thinking outside the idea of parish boundaries, and as part of a local Catholic community,” said Father Christopher Coyne, pastor at St. Margaret Mary’s.

“It’s the true meaning of the word ‘catholic,’ which means ‘universal,’” said Carol Wasilunas, a parishioner of St.Timothy’s.

Last year, the parishes jointly hosted Father Jack Rathschmidt, OFM Cap., of Jamaica Plain.

This year, the parishes hosted Father Tom McElroy, SS.CC., of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for a series of talks themed “Journey Together in Faith.”

Father Jim Burke, pastor of St. Denis, said that both the opening talk and the March 8 talk drew about 700 people.

Father Burke credits the success of this year’s event with the positive feedback from last year’s mission, as well as a coordinated publicity effort put forth by the parishes. Publicity included a flier sent home to every registered family in the parishes, Father Burke added.

The four parishes join in other ways besides the common mission.

Father Coyne said the four parishes hold a joint penance service in Advent and the clergy of the parishes meet once per month. He said the two Norwood parishes share youth ministers and collaborate in their confirmation program. He also said that youth from the Westwood parishes went to Mississippi to aid in rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

Father Coyne also said that during Lent and Holy Week, each parish publishes the Mass and service schedules of the other parishes.

“Our community knows they can go to various churches for what they need,” Father Coyne said.

Father Burke said such collaboration allows for sharing resources, including priests, and avoids repetition.

Msgr. Cornelius McRae, pastor of St. Catherine’s, said that it is necessary for the Westwood-Norwood parishes to work together during these times so that each parish has the resources it needs.

“It’s just common sense,” Msgr. McRae said. “Rather than reduplicate and reduplicate and kill ourselves, we can combine our efforts.”

When asked if clustering was the way of the future in the Church, Msgr. McRae said it is important for priests to “get along” for clustering to be effective.

“If they can’t get along in their own neighborhood, they won’t cluster,” he said.

In the past, Msgr. McRae said, the emphasis has been on parish identity. However, clustering, as is currently being done in Westwood and Norwood, can allow parishes to retain their identities.

“The challenge and the opportunity of clustering is to maintain the particular gifts of each parish without losing their identity while sharing the resources and the needs,” he said.

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