It’s not the building

It’s not the building

Here in Salem, we have seven Catholic churches, and most people acknowledge that it simply doesn’t make sense to have seven of them open any more. Only three are territorial parishes, while the other four were set up as ethnic parishes, of which only the Polish parish and the was-French/now-Spanish parish serve that purpose any more.

So it was decided a few years ago that St. Mary’s Italian Church, with its tiny congregation, should be the first to close. We all know how traumatic that must be for families that have lived in that parish for generations, but sometimes people go a little too far in their attachment to a building.

For example, yesterday I had to drive by the church, which has been closed for months now, and outside stood one older woman holding a sign, as she does on most days, that reads “Jesus Christ loves St. Mary’s Church.”

First, the theological point. I don’t think Jesus cares one whit about the building. I think he loves the people who were parishioners there, but to say that somehow he’s upset that the building they worshipped in is closed might be too much.

And now the practical point. In a city like Salem, where you can see one Catholic church from another and there is a declining population of churchgoing Catholics, we have to close churches. It makes no sense to have a fractured Catholic community of tiny congregations, when we could have a solid community of large congregations. And just the sight of large congregations could bolster the faith of some who think the Catholic Church is fading away.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • I agree 100%.  If you had fewer churches you would also be able to have more than one priest per parish. 

    Priests and religious were meant to live in community, to support and pray for each other.

    Just think about the “service” improvements.  A variety of daily Mass times (so maybe working people could attend), youth Masses, less “Priest Burnout”, etc…

    The same thing needs to happen in Haverhill.  They have extremely large parishes with only ONE PRIEST.

    We should turn the old parishes into Catholic Community Centers.  This would certainly help us in the general public, be a good sign to our “lost sheep”, and reach out to the non-churched.

    Oh, let’s continue to pray for ArchBishop Sean.  He’s going to have to make some tough calls, which will make him unpopular with the clergy, laity, and GLOBE.

  • I know people from Sacred Heart in Lawrence, who are not happy about being “folded in” to St. Patrick’s (do the Frech-Canadian and Polish parishes alway lose – I’m 75%-25%”).

    The trick is for the Pastor and flock to welcome them JOYFULLY.  I’ll tell you that Sacred Heart people didn’t feel all that welcomed.  Essentially, it must become a whole new parish.

    I think what the Archdiocese is doing in Brockton, merging, rather than folding in, is the right way.  They even went so far as to give the parish a new name:  SAINT EDITH STEIN. 


    P.S.  Dom, go back on vacation, you’re ruining my effectiveness at work.

  • Sorry to be a distraction, Joe. smile

    Actually, Tom, St. John the Baptist has more of a claim than other formerly ethnic parishes, since it still has many immigrant Poles, for whom Polish is a primary language and there is a thriving community based on that commonality.

    And as Joe says, Polish parishes have been inordinately hit with closings. St. Joseph’s right next door in Peabody is a prime example.

    What I’d like to see is St. Ann’s become a mission parish of St. James, St. Joseph’s become a mission of Immaculate Conception, and St. John’s to eventually—as every ethnic parish inevitably loses its unique identity—merge with one of the remaining. St. Thomas is large enough and far enough from the others to remain, and thus we could have three large parishes rather than six small ones.

  • Time for the Frassati Cigar Society.  We all need to talk about all this stuff in person!

  • I hate to disagree, Chris, but even when the Mass was in Latin (and perhaps especially), the ethnic lines were starkly drawn. Back then, if you were Irish, you wouldn’t dare step into a French or Italian parish, no matter what language the Mass is celebrated in. You might even be chased out by the priest!

    As for the devotional items (statues, altars, candle stands, and the like), they should all be removed when the church is closed (as they were at St. Mary’s) and ideally moved to other parishes.

    Our parish ended up taking many of the statues and the votive candle racks and putting them up in ours. Back in the early 90s the previous pastor “modernized” the church, and so many people were genuinely pleased to see the statues and candles return.

    One progressivist fuddy-duddy on the parish council grumbled that we had repealed the 20th century. I replied that I only wish we could.

  • I’ve lived in Boston, but I grew up in the Midwest, in an ethnic urban neighborhood.  The early 1900s saw a huge wave of immigrants, mostly from central Europe—just like in Chicago, KC, St Paul, Milwaukee, St Louis…. Every two or three blocks had an ethnic church. From north to south: the Italians attended St Ann’s and St Frances Cabrini; next to them, the Czechs had St Wenceslaus; the Irish had St Pat’s; then the Poles, with St Stan’s and Immaculate Conception…five or six more parishes down, and you came to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mexican parish, near Assumption and St Agnes, both of which were Czech, and St Francis Assisi, for the Poles. All of these in a span of less than five miles. Now, of course, every one of them is Latino, or has at least one Mass in Spanish—or it has moved, to the suburbs.

  • As I said in my previous post to this one, I think sacred objects should be treated with respect. But my point is that Jesus doesn’t LOVE a particular building, such that it would be an offense against him to close the parish that met there.

    As for the other point, you’re the expert I suppose, but here in Salem, we have, now, six parishes that are sparsely populated on Sundays and that emptiness is very discouraging to the people I talk to. Add to that the fact that the close proximity of so many churches leads people to parish-hop for convenience, going to whichever church fits this week’s schedule and keeping them from forming an attachment to a particular parish.

    Thank you for the kind words on my site.