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GLOUCESTER — The bulletin for the first parish opened this year, Holy Family Parish, acknowledged that Catholics from four former Cape Ann parishes may feel lost in their new place of worship, but reminded them of the difficulties faced by the Holy Family and God’s faithfulness to His people, especially in difficult times.
"Just remember what the Holy Family had to go through: a virgin birth, angels appearing in dreams, a stable with a manger, no room in the inn, a frightening exile from Egypt and a move to settle in a new land -- begin a new life with a new job, new neighbors, new friends," the bulletin said. "Their faithfulness to God was outdone only by God's faithfulness to them. And God will be faithful to us as well."
Around 350 Catholics from three former parishes in Gloucester — St. Ann Parish, St. Peter and Sacred Heart — along with former St. Joachim Parish in Rockport, attended the Mass on Jan. 8. Many worshipers grieved openly at the loss of their parishes as they gathered together to celebrate Mass at their newly-formed parish.
"As we come together to celebrate the first Mass in Holy Family Parish, we do so with pain, we do so with joy, we do so with acceptance," Bishop Francis X. Irwin, auxiliary bishop for the North Region of the archdiocese, said at the start of the Mass.
In a homily laced together with humor, Bishop Irwin said that the process that brought together four parishes has not been easy, but parishioners have an opportunity to “make something beautiful for God.”
"I firmly believe and I firmly hope that what will be the result of this reconfiguration will be a parish that is dynamic, will be a parish that is loving, will be a parish that knows what it means to take risks," he said.
Bishop Irwin commended the hard work of parishioners and the four pastors — Father Timothy A. Harrison from St. Ann Parish, Father Ronald J. Gariboldi from St. Joachim Parish, Father Myron F. Bullock from Sacred Heart Parish and Father Paul Rouse from St. Peter Parish.
Father Rouse has requested time off, Father Bullock has retired but will remain in residence at the primary worship site for the new parish, St. Ann Church, and Fathers Gariboldi and Harrison have been named co-pastors of the new Holy Family Parish.
"My experience with the people of Cape Ann is that they are robust," Father Harrison told parishioners before the final blessing. "They have strong, deep faith and they are very, very strong people. Our new parish will be robust, strong, full of compassion, full of life, full of love, and I think we've seen that demonstrated tonight."
After the Mass, Karen Chambers, a former St. Joachim parishioner, addressed the congregation. She and several other Cape Ann parishioners made a quilt, displayed on the altar for the opening Mass. The quilt depicts the four closed parishes, each in a corner, connected by rosary beads.
"We are all in various stages of emotions and mourning concerning our individual parishes," Chambers said. "Please continue to pray that we all find the healing that so many of us are still in need of. Please do not ask people to rejoice when they are not ready. Instead, please offer prayers and love and know that we all heal in our own time."
In an interview after the Mass, Father Harrison told The Pilot that many parishioners shared Chambers’ feelings.
"She spoke about people's pain," he said. "That pain is just under the surface for many people."
Long before reconfiguration, the parishes on Cape Ann worked together and combined resources, said Father Harrison. They had a shared youth-ministry program and the pastors shared their schedules. Although further consolidation over the course of several years had been discussed, reconfiguration brought change quickly to the region.
St. Ann Church, at least twice the size of other worship spaces on Cape Ann, is Holy Family’s primary worship space, and the new parish will also utilize St. Joachim Church, Father Harrison said. Three Sunday services will be held at each, and the pastors will treat both churches equally. A chapel, St. Anthony by the Sea, will also be used during the summer months when the population on Cape Ann usually triples.
Our Lady of Good Voyage Parish, the only remaining Gloucester parish, will remain open. Our Lady of Good Voyage is a Portuguese national parish, not a territorial parish. The archdiocese granted the request not to merge with the other Cape Ann parishes, Father Harrison said.
An archdiocesan statement said the four Cape Ann parishes closed “peacefully.”
"Archbishop Seán P. O'Malley expresses his understanding of the sadness many are feeling as their parishes close and shares his heartfelt gratitude for the parishioners' help in effecting a calm and peaceful transition to a new parish," the statement said.
“Everything blended together perfectly,” said Father Bullock. “There were no false notes.”
Despite the hurt expressed by many parishioners, Catholics from each parish said they were uplifted by the Mass.
"I liked having everybody here," said Pearl Parisi from former St. Ann's. "This will make the Holy Family -- all of us together."
Joseph DePino from former St. Peter’s said he believes more will be accomplished at one parish that combines the resources of the four former parishes.
DePino, who served on the cluster committee, said he originally did not want any parish to close but is happy with the way the process has turned out. He also commended the archbishop for being responsive to their needs.
Bill Proposki, a parishioner from former Sacred Heart, said hurt still lingered at the celebration of Mass.
The healing process is not done yet, said Bill Shepherd from former St. Peter’s.
"When you've been in one place for a long time and you have to move, it's mixed feelings," he said.
Bonnie Scatterday from former St. Joachim’s acknowledged that she did not originally want to attend Mass at Holy Family Parish.
"At first I didn't feel open to coming here," she said.
She was hurt and disappointed that her children would not have their first Communion in the same church they were baptized in. However, much was done to make all parishioners feel welcome, including establishment last fall of a combined religious-education program, she said.
"It's just amazing what people have done," she said. "I can't get over how well it's gone."