“Doomed” Churches Fight to Keep Doors Open

( [email protected] ) Jun 15, 2004 09:41 PM EDT

The Parishioners and priests at churches selected for closure by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston held vigils, protests and rallies on Sunday, June 13, to keep their beloved cathedrals opened.

At the St. Mary of the Angeles Cathedral in the Egleston district, some 400 parishioners held hands in a collective “hug” around the church to show the Archbishop Sean O’Malley the significance of the church to them and to the community.

“This is the heart of Egleston,'' said Sixto Merced, a Boston police officer who attended St. Mary since childhood. ``Back then, this was the only place in the community you could go to escape the gangs.”

At St. Peter Lithuanian Church in South Boston, the parishioners expressed a “deep disappointment” in the archbishop’s decision to close 65 cathedrals in the area – the largest massive closure in the history of the U.S. Catholic Church.

`This is the only church in greater Boston that holds Lithuanian language sermons during the summer,'' said Monsignor Albert Contons, a retired pastor of St. Peter. “There is a very strong tradition of heritage in the community and going to Sunday sermons given in Lithuanian is an important part of passing the heritage through the ages.''

``So we strongly disagree with the letter sent by the archdiocese that Boston no longer needs a Lithuanian church,” said Contons.

O’Malley and others had listed demographic changes as one of the core justifications for the closures.

"The key is that in urban America, parishes were almost always ethnic parishes -- whether Italian, Polish, German, Irish and so forth," said James Fisher, the co-director for the Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University. "They became so identified with those ethnic communities that once the ethnic group no longer inhabited the neighborhood, it threw the fate of the parish up in the air."

Another main reason listed was the archdiocese’s lack of funds.

Conton said his church is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and has about $165,000 in the bank with no debts.

At Saint Susanna's in Dedham, Mass., parishioners hammered "Save Our Saint Susanna's" signs into the lawn and vowed to appeal closure to the archdiocese.

At yet another “marked” church – Saint Catherine of Siena, the parishioners began a petition asking O’Malley to visit the church and observe the social services it provides to the community. St. Catherine has long-since hosted AA meetings, provided a food pantry and taught free English lessons to the community.

O’Malley has not yet responded to those petitions.