Sunday, October 31, 2004

St. Rose of Lima Parish, 1980-2004.

Today is the date on which my home parish, St. Rose of Lima in Rochester, Massachusetts, will be suppressed as a parish. That this should happen on Halloween is highly appropriate. Despite seemingly reliable expectations that St. Rose of Lima would not be affected by the process known as "reconfiguration," the parish was nonetheless selected for closure by Archbishop Sean O'Malley. (Incidentally, when he was Bishop of Fall River O'Malley also closed my father's childhood parish; I guess that's one more thing Dad and I now have in common.) Though the church building will remain open for weekend Masses, St. Rose of Lima will become a mission of Sacred Heart parish in neighboring Middleboro, a church that is fifteen miles away from St. Rose over winding and bumpy country roads.

Before I go any further, I'll freely admit that the reconfiguration process is a necessary though difficult one: demographic and financial realities are such that the Archdiocese of Boston (and, for that matter, many other dioceses throughout the country) has no choice but to close many of its parishes. That said, fair questions may be raised about the way in which the process has been conducted, both in general and in particular cases.

To speak of this particular case, I wonder whether the Archdiocese gave serious enough consideration to the reality that St. Rose of Lima is the only Catholic church located in its town and stands at a considerable distance from neighboring parishes. Rochester has been growing at a steady clip in recent years, and so has the parish. Archbishop O'Malley may regard the parish's "low sacramental index" as a sign of ill health, but the steadily increasing pastoral demands that will come as Rochester's population increases will lead many to question why St. Rose of Lima is to be considered a "mission" and not a parish. St. Rose of Lima has enjoyed strong financial health, and its physical plant is in good condition. Above and beyond all this, the parish is still hurting from the removal of a popular longtime pastor two years ago. Under the circumstances, I am not convinced that the decision to close St. Rose of Lima can be regarded as pastorally sound.

I'm also not convinced that all potential options were seriously considered in this case. Though some St. Rose of Lima members long suspected that a day would come when the shrinking number of Catholic clergy meant they would no longer enjoy a resident priest, few if any thought they'd lose their parish as well. A growing number of Catholic parishes across the country have to make do without a pastor, typically with a layperson or a woman religious acting as administrator and a circuit-riding priest visiting to celebrate the liturgy; St. Rose of Lima might have joined their ranks, though the transition would've been hard for parishioners accustomed to having a priest in residence (even so, I'd say that transition beats transitioning to not being a parish anymore). Evidently, however, this and other options were not given full consideration. For me, the suppression of St. Rose of Lima is emblematic of the sad way the reconfiguration process has been handled. In times like this, it can be very hard to feel hopeful about the future of the Church in Boston, and I'm struggling over this just as much as anyone else. Over the next few days I'll be praying in a special way for the parishioners of St. Rose of Lima and for all who are facing the challenge of parish closings - hopefully, you'll join with me in these intentions. AMDG.


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