By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Removal of part of the façade of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Mulberry Street began this week because the city believes it is an immediate safety hazard, according to Msgr. F. Stephen Pedone, pastor.
He said this work and wrapping the steeple in metal banding to stabilize it and catch any falling debris is expected to cost $75,000 and be completed in two weeks.
Decisions have not been made about what to do in the long run, but last week preliminary options were given to Bishop McManus, he said.
The options came from a Jan. 27 meeting Msgr. Pedone had with the Transition Committee of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Ann Parish. He said he made a proposal and committee members discussed it and voted unanimously on recommending it to the bishop. The next day he and Bishop McManus talked about it.
He said the recommendations are not public, but added that unpopular options must be looked at because the parish can’t afford to fix the church or pay the bills.
“My feeling is the building has … served its purpose,” he said of the church, which was completed in 1928.
He said it makes sense to have parishioners come to Our Lady of Loreto, their daughter parish on Massasoit Rd., which he also pastors.
The pastor of the two traditionally Italian parishes said he’s asking, “How best can we be Church” for the Italian-American Catholic community in Worcester? Our Lady of Loreto’s church building, parish center and rectory are in good condition and are economical to operate, he said, though there are moisture issues in the church basement and the rectory will need a new roof in a few years.
Before making a final decision, Bishop McManus must consult the Presbyteral Council, and will also seek input from the diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee, said Msgr. Pedone, who is a member of both.
The pastor said he plans to hold a meeting for members of both parishes at 1 p.m. Feb. 21 in Mount Carmel’s parish center.
In a letter in the Jan. 31 parish bulletin he said the two parishes may be merged and Mount Carmel closed, with all worship being held at Loreto by this summer.
In the letter, Msgr. Pedone wrote that he and Jeffrey
Berthiaume, chairman of the parish finance committee,
had met with the city’s building inspector, and representatives from Consigli Construction Company and Gorman Richardson Lewis Architects, in response to the city’s directive to make the front of the church safe. That bulletin was printed before he met with the Transition Committee Jan. 27, he said.
Part of the façade is leaning five inches away from the building toward Mulberry Street, Msgr. Pedone said. The flashing on the façade is gone, which allows water to get between the building and the façade. When the water freezes, it pushes the façade out.
The relief of Our Lady of Mount Carmel flanked by angels, and some other portions of the façade, are being taken down.
Msgr. Pedone said the ground in front of the steeple will be sectioned off, but pedestrians and vehicles will still be able to travel on Mulberry Street. The plan is to make it safe to reopen the church’s front doors, he said.
He said it was estimated that it would cost $1.3 million to fix the façade, steeple and sagging choir loft, where pieces of the ceiling are falling, and close to $2 million to fix the parish center, which has a leaking roof and structural issues.
“Our great nemesis is the highway,” Msgr. Pedone said, adding that the state denies that. He said he didn’t know whether the state would have to pay for repairs to the church if the state was found responsible for the damage. (In 1958 construction began on Interstate 290, and an elevated portion of it is separated from the front of the church just by the width of Mulberry Street.)
“If you stay on that property, you can feel the vibration” in the church, rectory and parish center, Msgr. Pedone said.
The church has continually been fixed, he said.
In 2007 the parish began a campaign to raise $3 million, but ultimately raised less than $1 million, he said.
“The (offertory) collection is filled with dollar bills,” and totals $3,500-$4,000 per week, far short of the $9,400 per week needed to meet current expenses, according to Msgr. Pedone and a bulletin report. His letter says several times he had to take money from the parish’s dwindling savings to pay regular bills.
While about 80 percent of the parishioners are retired people on fixed incomes, he’s asked parishioners, “What can you buy for $1?” he said. “If you don’t want to pay for something, you can’t have it.”
The payroll is $3,000 per week, which includes salaries, benefits and payroll taxes, he said. He said the parish owes money for The Catholic Free Press quota, the Cathedraticum, and insurance costs, and that it’s not fair to make the diocese incur debt to pay the parish’s bills.
Of 1,500 census forms mailed in June to households registered in the parish, 628 have been returned, and fewer than 200 of those households support the parish financially, Msgr. Pedone said.
“When do you say, ‘It’s enough?’” he asked. “I know people are very … attached to the building. … We’ve got to stop this idolatry of buildings. … The Church is the people.” He said the building has sentimental value to him too; he grew up there and received his sacraments there. But they don’t have many options and tough decisions must be made, he said.