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Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley issued decrees on May 23 to move the archdiocese’s regional and vicariate boundaries in order to equalize the number of parishes in each of the five regions and the vicariates.
The restructuring of regions, vicariates and clusters was necessary “to better suit the needs of the archdiocese now that we are well into the process of reconfiguration,” wrote Archbishop O’Malley in a letter to priests of the archdiocese.
“Now with the reconfiguration of the archdiocese it gave us a very unequal number of parishes in the different regions, so the archbishop formed a task force and gave the mandate that we would have five regions in the archdiocese of approximately equal number of parishes,” said Father Arthur M. Coyle, secretary for pastoral services.
The West region, which had been the smallest region, has expanded north to include parishes in Acton, Bedford, Box-borough, Burlington, Carlisle, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Maynard and Stow, and the region expanded south to include parishes in Dedham, Foxborough, Norfolk, Norwood, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood and Wrentham. Ipswich and Topsfield have been added to the Merrimack region from the North region.
The towns of Ashby, Boxborough, Boxford, Dunstable, Lincoln, Newbury, Plympton, Rochester, Rockport, and Wenham are towns within the archdiocese, but there are no canonical parishes in these municipalities.
In the 1970s the regional lines were formed with a north, south and central region. A fourth region was later added, and the West region was added in the late 1980s. The West region was formed “considerably smaller” than the other four because “at the time it was expected that the regional bishop of that region would have other diocesan responsibilities,” said Father Coyle.
Reconfiguration made the disparity of the number of parishes in each region even greater. The archbishop recognized that the lines would need to be restructured when closing parishes were named last year and formed a task force in September, he said.
The committee consisted of seven members of the Presbyteral Council, including Father Coyle as chair, director of the Office of Planning and Research Father Robert G. McMillan, SJ, Harry Foden also from the Planning Office and one priest from each of the present regions.
“The task force looked at the archdiocese as a whole and mapped out a draft proposal of five regions, taking into consideration the expected number of parishes at the end of the reconfiguration process and also taking into consideration various other demographics,” Father Coyle said.
Those demographics included cities and towns that were closely aligned with one another for reasons such as sharing a school district, he added.
Archbishop O’Malley took the first draft to a meeting with the auxiliary bishops for their consideration. Changes were made and the draft was taken to the Presbyteral Council for further consultation, he said.
The task force then took this second draft and formed a proposal to reassign vicariates in each of the newly drawn regions. The archbishop wanted to make these as equal as possible in the number of parishes as well. Four vicariates were formed for each region for a total of 20, which is down from 22 before the change. This proposal went through the same process of consultation as the proposal for the boundaries of the regions and was considered at a meeting of all the archdiocese’s bishops and vicars on Feb. 1. The archbishop heard further recommendations and took them into consideration before publishing the decrees, Father Coyle said.
The vicars, whose three-year terms would have expired on Jan. 10, were asked to extend their service to June 30 in order to put the regional changes into place. Consultation to select new vicars has already begun now that the vicariate lines have been changed, he said.
Bishops and vicars are now working on finalizing the new clusters, which are not a canonical entity, he added.
Although the alterations will help balance out regions and vicariates, they will not create any drastic changes for parishioners, said Father Coyle.
“In some cases they would have a different regional bishop,” he said. “There would be a number of vicariate changes, and basically then they would be under a different vicar and part of a different grouping of parishes that would meet together.”
The reconfigured regions will keep their names: Central, Merrimack, North, South and West. As Father Coyle indicated there will be four vicariates (Vicariate I, II, III, IV) in each region for a total of 20 vicariates forane or deaneries.