Six Catholic churches in the towns west of Boston, part of the latest round of parish collaboratives, will get new pastors in early June as the Archdiocese of Boston continues a major reorganization.
The churches will see significant changes as they merge with other parishes and say goodbye to their pastors. Eight parishes have been combined into four collaboratives. Two of those parishes will keep their pastor, who will also oversee a second church.
“On a human level, all of us will have to address, preferably in a constructive manner, the personal stresses and practical changes that are coming our way,” the Rev. Walter Woods, currently pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish of Acton and Boxborough, wrote in a letter to parishioners last month. Starting June 3, Wood will also lead the Church of St. Isidore in Stow, where he has been temporary administrator.
The new pastors appointed by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley were among those chosen to lead 21 collaboratives chosen for the second phase of a plan to rebuild the archdiocese. The plan is designed to address challenges facing parishes across the archdiocese, including a shortage of priests, declining Mass attendance, weak finances, and aging facilities.
Pastors from outside parishes were chosen to lead two new collaboratives in area towns. The Rev. Michael W. MacEwen, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Marlborough, will be the pastor of St. Linus and St. Patrick churches in Natick.
The Rev. John P. Culloty, now pastor of St. Timothy in Norwood, will become pastor of St. Edward the Confessor in Medfield and St. Jude Church in Norfolk.
The diocese will appoint administrators to lead the churches in Marlborough and Norwood that are losing their pastors. When these churches officially join collaboratives in the future, priests will be named as their pastors.
“We tried, in each case, to make a judgment about what would be best for evangelization. Evangelization is really at the heart of this plan.’
In addition to Woods, one other pastor will stay in his current church. The Rev. Peter F. Quinn, pastor since 2005 at St. Catherine of Alexandria in Westford, will also lead St. Anne in Littleton.
Woods, of Acton, wrote to parishioners that the cardinal’s decision “lifts the fog of uncertainty” that has surrounded both his current and his new parish and offers stability to both. After St. Isidore’s pastor became ill in November 2011, Woods wrote, the church has seen great change, with three church administrators and five assigned priests.
Parishes had been told which other churches would be in their collaboratives. But this was the first time they learned who would lead them.
“Their needs are many and great,” said the Rev. Paul Soper, director of the archdiocese’s office of pastoral planning. “When we made these assignments, we consulted with parish councils and their staff.”
Nancy Irwin, head usher at St. Edward the Confessor in Medfield, said she was disappointed to hear that her priest, the Rev. Leroy Owen, would leave the church. She and her husband have been attending St. Edward since they moved to the area in 1976.
“We’re very sad that he is leaving,” she said. “But I guess we kind of understand that with the shortage of priests, the parishes need to join together.”
The Rev. Monsignor Peter V. Conley, pastor at the collaborative’s other church, St. Jude in Norfolk, for 14 years, said he was considering offers to become a senior priest in residence but hadn’t yet decided where.
At 75, he said, he was looking forward to continuing to preach but relinquishing responsibility for “gutters, taxes, the things I’m very weary of.”
Culloty, who will be leading the Medfield and Norfolk collaborative, said he plans to meet with parishioners to hear their concerns and hopes.
“I’m a great believer of listening to the people first,” he said. “My hope is to be able to maintain things as best I can for the moment.”
Appointment of a pastor is a critical part of Disciples in Mission, the pastoral plan that will reorganize the archdiocese’s 288 parishes into 135 collaboratives over the next seven years. Along with a pastor, a collaborative will share other priests, deacons, lay staff, facilities, and other resources.
Evangelization — a call for Catholics to help rebuild their church — lies at the heart of the plan. And pastors were chosen, in part, on who best could fulfill that mission, an archdiocese official said.
“We tried to make a judgment about what would be best for evangelization,” said Soper. “Evangelization is really at the heart of this plan.”
Outreach to lapsed and new Catholics will be parish-based. Each collaborative will spend nearly a year writing a local pastoral plan, outlining steps to renew the faith of local Catholics, and receive training on how to implement it.
Parishes selected for the first 12 collaboratives, established last June, now are finishing writing their plans, which will be implemented over the next several months, Soper added.
“The writing of the local pastoral plan is at the heart of what we’re doing,” said Soper, a former pastor of parishes in Beverly and Revere. “A parish has to step back, look at itself, and retool for evangelization. That’s a big challenge.”
Quinn said he has celebrated Mass at St. Anne in Littleton several times in recent years. “We’ve done great work at St. Catherine, and I really wanted to stay and advocate for that work to continue, but now with St. Anne,” he said.
He hopes to meet soon with the parish council at St. Anne.
“I don’t want them to feel like they’re being swallowed up by a larger parish,” Quinn said. “I hope to split my time evenly between the two. It’s going to be a big adjustment for people here in Westford, too.”Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenBurge.