Two years after merger, parish continues faith journey

NEWTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley celebrated Mass Aug. 17 at St. Bernard Church, a worship site of Corpus Christi-St. Bernard Parish, in anticipation of the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux on Aug. 20.

The parish was created July 1, 2006, as a result of the Meade-Eisner Committee-recommended changes to the archdiocese’s original reconfiguration plan.

“I am very happy to welcome you today and I know that your presence here today is a very special blessing,” said Father Frank J. Silva to the cardinal at the opening of the Mass.

Initially, St. Bernard Parish was slated to be suppressed, and then received by Auburndale’s Corpus Christi Parish, he said. Now, both churches are worship sites within the new parish. The rectory at St. Bernard continues to be a residence, housing the pastor and two other priests.

After the closing of St. Bernard’s was announced in 2004, members of the parish stayed in vigil inside the church to promote a re-examination of the decision to shutter the building with the suppression of the parish.

Following a model that was used in several contested parish closings, the archdiocese delayed the closing and appointed a new pastor, Father James Mahoney, for both St. Bernard’s and Corpus Christi. Father Mahoney was tasked with determining the best course of action for both parishes.

After a review by the Reconfiguration Review Committee, later popularly known as the Meide-Eisner Committee, the decision was made to merge Corpus Christi and St. Bernard’s parish in 2006 and Father Silva was made pastor.

“It is a great joy to be here with you at Corpus Christi-St. Bernard Parish. I congratulate you on the paint job -- the church looks terrific. It really is beautiful,” said Cardinal O’Malley at the opening of his homily.

“I also want to publicly acknowledge and express my gratitude to Father Frank Silva, Father Frank Conroy and to Deacon Dan Nelson, who is sitting in the back because he had a knee operation. Pastor told me he wore out his knees praying,” he said.

“I also want to thank all the parish leadership for all the hard work and patience and determination in building this new parish,” he said. “I know that you are working to implement the Arise program here, which is one of the ways the archdiocese is celebrating its 200th birthday. It is a wonderful program.”

After the Mass, the cardinal met with parishioners at a continental breakfast reception in front of the rectory and with Arise volunteers, who had an information and sign-up table.

“I was delighted to hear that the cardinal would be coming,” said Father Silva. “One of the reasons I think it is important for the cardinal to come here is that this will be his first visit to the parish in a sense, which he created as a result of the fallout and discussions coming out of the reconfiguration process,” he said.

Father Silva said the archdiocese promised that all of the facilities and property of the two former parishes would be kept and used by the new parish.

The Corpus Christi rectory is now the parish center, providing meeting space, offices for the deacon, the pastoral associate and lay people leaders of parish programs. The building also has space rented to local music nonprofits, in addition to office space for the local Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers upstairs and gift donation storage for the Pro-Life Office’s baby shower program, he said.

“This is a new beginning for the Corpus Christi-St. Bernard community,” said Edward C. Marchand, a life-long member of the predecessor parish at St. Bernard who was active in the efforts to keep St. Bernard open. “I always thought the best decision for all concerned would come out.”

Bruce M. McIntyre, who has attended St. Bernard Church since 1959, except for a break between 1962 and 1969, said the difficulty the archdiocese faced during reconfiguration was similar to recent problems the city of Newton had closing public schools because of the decline in enrollment. “Nobody wanted their neighborhood school to close.”

After the archbishop named the committee to review the original reconfiguration plan, McIntyre said he called Peter Meade, who with Sister Janet Eisner, SND, led the review.

“I left him a message that this was a situation that needed to be rectified. It was attempting to do too much and they were looking for a disaster,” he said.

“I think the cardinal’s visit is timely, I really do. There is still some bitterness among the real old-timers,” he said. “But I am very happy with the way things have come together. I am 76 years old and I have seen many things. I knew time would cure it.”

McIntyre, who is on both the activities and finance committees, said he and his wife Sally split their time between the two worship sites. His wife was the lector at that morning’s 7:30 Mass at Corpus Christi and she was a greeter at the Mass with the cardinal.

“I am on the activities committee because the only way we are really going to turn this thing around is by getting the youth involved,” he said.