Newton parish closures to be re-evaluated

NEWTON — Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley has asked four parishes in Newton — St. Bernard Parish, Corpus Christi Parish, Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish and St. Philip Neri Parish — “to enter into a period of re-evaluation and to provide recommendations within the next year” in light of new information, according to a statement.

The decision was made in consultation with the External Reconfiguration Review Committee, formed by the archbishop and announced on Oct. 7.

“Archbishop O’Malley has decided that determination of the best way to meet the needs of the Catholic community in Newton requires more time in light of new information that has been learned since reconfiguration decisions were announced in May,” said the statement.

When reconfiguration decisions were released in May, the archdiocese announced St. Bernard and Mary Immaculate would close and Corpus Christi and St. Philip Neri would serve as receiving parishes, respectively. Although no formal closing date for the parishes was ever set by the archbishop, it was announced that St. Bernard’s would not close as anticipated in October. At the time, the archdiocese announced the parish would stay open “indefinitely” and Sunday Masses could continue to be celebrated in the church. Since the announcement, parishioners have held a 24-hour prayer vigil despite the fact that their parish remains open.

Now, the archdiocese has announced that all four pastors in these parishes will leave. In their place, an administrator will be appointed to head both St. Bernard and Corpus Christi parishes, and a second administrator will be appointed to both Mary Immaculate and St. Philip Neri, the statement said.

“The Newton Catholic population at St. Bernard and Corpus Christi parishes invites further analysis and evaluation; the issue of available and adequate facilities for religious education and parish meetings needs to be looked at more closely at St. Philip Neri and Mary Immaculate of Lourdes parishes,” the statement said.

The statement cited other factors that will be considered, among them that the archdiocese originally thought the Catholic Deaf Community would move to Corpus Christi. The statement implied that this was a factor in not closing Corpus Christi. The Catholic Deaf community is now at Sacred Heart in Newton. The statement also mentioned that many parishioners of Mary Immaculate reside in Needham.

“These factors all prompted the archbishop’s desire to have a look at these particular parishes,” the statement said. “It is his hope that the people of the archdiocese, as a family of faith, will go forward to build up the Church.”

Two meetings were held on Dec. 14 — one at Corpus Christi and another at St. Philip Neri — in order to notify the four parish councils of the changes.

Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, bishop of the West Region, made the announcement at Corpus Christi to their parish council and St. Bernard’s parish council. Twenty-one parishioners and both pastors attended the meeting.

Bishop Edyvean began by reading from the archdiocese’s statement. He explained to the councils that he was there to make an announcement and said detailed discussion about the future of the parishes should wait until mid-January, after the new administrator is appointed.

The task of determining what is best for the future of the parishes is the task of the new administrator, and it was premature to say that either parish would definitely close, he said.

After Bishop Edyvean spoke, many people from both councils voiced their concerns and frustration. Several commented that they were worried that this situation would cause them to be pitted against each other.

“It’s like playing Catholic survivor,” said a parishioner from St. Bernard’s.

“Do not be considered one against the other,” Bishop Edyvean responded. “There isn’t room for hostility. It wouldn’t be the Church if one Catholic parish was against another Catholic parish.”

“The mentality of who stays and who goes is a destructive mentality,” he continued. “You are the ones that have to work most on making sure that mentality doesn’t creep in and the administrator is there to help you with it.”

One Corpus Christi parishioner was brought to tears by the prospect of losing her pastor in a month, and others from both parishes voiced concern that a new administrator would not know parishioners or have knowledge of the history of the two parishes.

“Obviously it’s shocking to lose a well-liked pastor,” said Bishop Edyvean. “The archbishop is well-aware of the situation and would look for a priest that would excel in sensitivity.”

Corpus Christi’s pastor, Father Joseph F. McGlone, will be retiring, and St. Bernard’s pastor, Father Paul E. Kilroy has presented his resignation to the archbishop.

Many parishioners said they wanted to help pick out the new administrator. While the laity have rights that are protected by the Church, those rights do not extend to the selection of pastors, Bishop Edyvean said.

One parishioner said she saw hope in the situation.

“I think there’s some hope in here somewhere, especially in the Advent season,” said Anne Marie David, music director at Corpus Christi.

David also voiced concern for the parishioners at Corpus Christi whose parish had not originally been on the closure list. She said parishioners will be shocked that their parish may now be in danger when they gather together for their next Sunday Mass.

Bishop Edyvean promised to bring the council members’ concerns back to the archbishop, and said he appreciated the courtesy he was shown at the meeting.

He also acknowledged that the process of reconfiguration may have moved forward too rapidly, but said the gradual process of closure used in past years would have been too slow.

Many parishioners thanked the bishop for his visit.

Despite Bishop Edyvean’s urging parishioners to leave serious discussion until the new administrator arrives, many of the council members wanted to get together and discuss the situation.

“Let’s not allow what has been thrust on us this evening to cause any division in our community,” said a parishioner from St. Bernard’s.

After meeting, council members appointed two parishioners — one from each parish — to serves as spokespersons.

“It’s been a terribly painful process and we’re hoping that this will bring some closure to our Catholic communities,” said Don Snyder, a parishioner at St. Bernard’s.

“I’m determined that we’re going to work together,” said Polly Bryson of Corpus Christi. “We have to.”

Attempts by The Pilot to seek comment from representatives of St. Philip Neri and Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parishes were unsuccessful.