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Parishioners from St. Alphonsus Church in Beverly have come together to build a church in the Dominican Republic after receiving notification on May 25 that the parish would be closing Aug. 29. Although the news of the parish closing did not come as a shock, parishioners desired to do something productive to ease the sting of closing, said Father Paul Soper, the church’s pastor.
"People here have worked long and hard to do this with grace and dignity," he said. Father Soper suggested building a new St. Alphonsus for Catholic people who do not have a church, and parishioners immediately jumped into action.
About 60 St. Alphonsus parishioners met on July 28 to discuss funding for the church project. At the meeting, three parishioners and Father Soper shared stories and slides from their planning trip to the Dominican Republic in mid-July during which legal papers to start the project were signed.
Future trips were also planned at the meeting. Several parishioners will visit the site with supplies and check the progress of construction in the fall, and a larger group will go to the dedication ceremony next February.
"They're pleased there's a new St. Alphonsus," he said. "I think it's terribly important for them."
Father Soper suggested the Dominican Republic as the site for the new church since he had experience visiting that country with a group from his former parish, St. Anthony in Revere.
The new church will be built in Pueblo Nuevo, a little town on a mountainside near Santiago, without a church and seven miles from the closest village. It will serve 90 families, seat 80 people and contain sacred items from its namesake including, a chalice, candlestands, stations of the cross, tapestries, a statue of the Sacred Heart and a crucifix saved from the old St. Alphonsus building that burned in 1967.
The parish was unable to donate some of its larger items since transportation to Pueblo Nuevo is difficult.
"You have to get them there and then get them up the mountain, which is non-trivial," said Father Soper. Trucks can make the journey to the village but rain makes the mountain roads impassable. Even most villagers only make the arduous trip to Mass once every three weeks.
Construction on the project, which began last month, is expected to take 10 to 20 weeks, depending on weather. Heavy bags of cement must be carried up the mountainside, and the rainy season begins in November and lasts until February.
The parishioners on the trip were glad to know that they will be helping to build a church where the need is so great.
"It makes you re-think your priorities," said Clare Bravo. "The level of poverty was astounding."
Children do not have toys and homes have dirt floors. Even driving up the mountain was strenuous because the terrain is rough. But amidst all this material poverty is a wealth of spirituality. People wear rosaries and religious articles are prominent in their homes, Bravo said.
"I'm sure it [the new church] will be full every week," Bravo said. "I have no doubt."
Ray Crean, parishioner for 32 years and a lector, said he also noticed the spiritual dedication of the people of Pueblo Nuevo who made the long trip to Sunday Mass.
"I saw what real inconvenience is," he said. "Getting used to a welcoming parish won't take much doing."
Dianne McGrane, parishioner for 18 years, said she has been looking for a higher reason for the closing of her parish and has found it in the building of a new church.
"We're dealing with a great sadness closing St. Alphonsus," she said. "It brings a new level of Christianity when we can look beyond our world."