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Venerable South Boston church closes for repairs

A net has been hung under the church’s ceiling to catch falling plaster.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Parishioners of Saint Vincent de Paul’s Church in South Boston will find the doors to their beloved neighborhood church locked this weekend, a sign informing them that it is no longer safe to worship inside — at least for now.

“This is a really sad day for all of us,” said Dianne Horne, 60, who lives just blocks from the church. “I’ve been going to this church my whole life. I was baptized here.”

The church’s interior is marred by the presence of safety nets hanging from the ceiling beams to catch the crumbling pieces of plaster. The interior was deemed unsafe last Monday by a team of structural engineers and risk management analysts from the office of the Archdiocese of Boston and needs further inspection to assess the costs of repair.


“The damage is extensive; we’ll see what it will take to repair it and what it will cost,” said the Rev. Steve Madden, who, along with the Rev. Gerald Souza, took over the parish in June after the departure of the Rev. Joe White.

“This is not easy for people to hear; this church is a safe haven for people in the neighborhood,” Madden said.

But Madden insists the temporary closure is a necessary safety precaution. On Saturday, he and Souza found new chunks of plaster that had fallen from the ceiling.

“This pile of debris right here should tell you that this is the right decision,” Souza said, pointing to a mess in the upper balcony.

Madden and Souza will say Mass at St. Peter’s Lithuanian Parish, one of the other two churches in their collaborative, about a 10-minute walk from St. Vincent’s.

Despite the relative proximity and the consistency of the clergymen, the temporary closure of St. Vincent’s will place a burden on some of the church’s older parishioners, many of whom walk to church every day.


“It couldn’t be worse timing with winter coming. The elderly can’t make it that far of a walk in the cold,” said Peg Thompson, 74.

Madden said the plaster on the church’s ceiling and walls is the original ox-hair plastering from its construction in the 1870s. St. Vincent’s was originally located across Boston Harbor in Fort Hill but was moved to its current location by Irish-Catholic immigrants. Many parts of the original church, including some exterior stones and stained-glass windows, were used to construct the new church.

More recently, the church underwent a major restoration in the early 2000s funded by the sale of the St. Peter and Paul Church. In 2003, the church earned the Preservation Achievement Award of the Boston Preservation Alliance.

And funds from the 2014 sale of a parcel of land in the Seaport by the archdiocese to developers went to replacing the roof. But parishioners have known for some time that the plaster ceiling of their church was the next fix on the list.

“I remember when a piece of the ceiling fell and Father Joe White was covered in dust one day about six or seven years ago. So we’ve known they need to fix it, but it’s just very sad,” Thompson said.

Parishioners are already taking steps to make the transition to Mass at St. Peter’s easier. Some have parked their cars outside the church before daily Mass, waiting for parishioners to arrive and offering rides to their temporary church.


“It’s a really nice thing that some of them have been doing; it’s a big help for the older people that are used to walking to church every day,” Souza said.

Eric Bosco can be reached at