By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – St. Joseph’s Rectory on Hamilton Street has been renovated with suites for retired priests.
And, for the first time in more than two decades, the pastor lives there.
But to parishioners, some of whom fought to keep the church open in the early 1990s, this rectory was “home” years ago. Jan. 17 they rejoiced as Bishop McManus blessed it at an open house.
Father Steven M. LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish, which worships in St. Joseph’s Church next to the rectory, said renovations on the house began last spring and he moved in on Dec. 17. Since 2008, when Holy Family Parish was created from Notre Dame-St. Joseph and Holy Name of Jesus parishes, Notre Dame’s rectory at 5 Whitman Rd. provided the pastor’s living quarters.
Father LaBaire said no retired priests live at St. Joseph’s Rectory yet. He said renovating the rectory and offering it as a home for them has been a joint venture of the parish and diocese.
Bishop McManus said the renovation is to be paid for primarily by the impending sale of the Whitman Road rectory.
A protocol for retired priests seeking to live in St. Joseph’s Rectory hasn’t yet been written, the bishop said. For now, those interested should contact, Father Richard F. Reidy, the vicar general, or Father Walter J. Riley, director of priest personnel. Expectations of these retired priests will probably be drawn up, but will not include helping at Holy Family, he said. Father LaBaire said they would pay rent for the operation of the house.
The rectory’s first floor includes a parish office, and a chapel, kitchen and dining room for the priests, and the second floor has suites for three retired priests capable of living independently. (The fourth suite is Father LaBaire’s.)
Father LaBaire said when he became pastor in 2013 Bishop McManus indicated his openness to talking about using St. Joseph’s Rectory. It needed repairs and is not handicapped accessible, but is well-constructed, beautiful, centrally located, and can accommodate priests, so the bishop thought it could house retired priests and serve the parish, he said.
Father LaBaire said he and parishioners were thrilled. He wanted the rectory to be used, and hoped to live there close to the church, but didn’t need the whole house.
He said he prays it can “find a new vocation” serving the parish and diocese.
The church and rectory were dedicated in 1928, under the leadership of then Father William H. Ducharme.
“He intended it to be a model rectory for other rectories throughout the United States, providing separate suites,” and to be a hub of activity for clergy from New England and French-speaking Canada, Father LaBaire said. It includes two second-floor guest rooms and individual rooms on the third floor.
The rectory served the parish until 1992, when St. Joseph’s and Notre Dame des Canadiens parishes were merged and St. Joseph’s Church was closed, sparking a protest which eventually led to its reopening in 1996. Father LaBaire said St. Joseph’s rectory was occasionally used for parish events or temporary housing.
Before the present renovations, one option was demolishing it for parking space, he said.
“In configuring and designing the interior of this house, I worked with parishioners to create an environment that is simple, yet beautiful, … contemporary and yet respectful of the architecture,” he said.
He said furniture and artifacts, including some of Msgr. Ducharme’s, were restored. Yvette Rutledge, parish council chairwoman, framed old prints.
The chapel’s altar came from the former convent at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Gardner, and the furnishings from the former Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Gardner, he said. The rectory also has items that belonged to Msgr. Rocco Piccolomini, who planned to move here, but died unexpectedly last year, he said.
On Sunday parishioners rejoiced in coming back to the rectory.
“To have the bishop come and bless it!” marveled lifelong parishioner Theresa Turgeon. “We’ve come full circle.” She was recalling it and the church being open, closed, and re-opened.
“It’s a dream come true,” said lifelong parishioner Lucille Dagostino.
Fellow-parishioner Yvette Prosser said Father LaBaire promised he’d re-open the rectory if possible.
“We used to come here often – partying,” Mrs. Dagostino recalled. Mrs. Prosser spoke of Christmas parties there.
“I had my family Christmases here” for 10 years, until the church was closed, Ms. Turgeon said. That way priests could go home for Christmas and the building wasn’t left unattended.
“For my children, this is a real coming home,” she said.
“You want to use the word ‘home,’ but it almost isn’t enough,” said her daughter Danielle Calcagni. “The feeling here hasn’t changed.”
“We babysat the rectory,” answering the door and the telephone, said her sister Dianne Wasgatt. She recalled “CCD in the basement” and her first liturgy committee meeting at age 16.
Ms. Turgeon, one of the leaders in efforts to re-open the church in 1992, spoke of being patient, waiting for God to reveal his plan and seeing prayers answered.
“I don’t think he’s done yet,” she said, as she welcomed guests Sunday. But, she added, “This is certainly the last piece of a puzzle – to be able to greet people and say, ‘Welcome home.’ … When you greet people there’s a whole treasure trove of memories on their faces. And for the new people, it’s their beginning. I won’t say it’s the best of the best, but it’s pretty close.”
She said she thinks the retired priests will find a home here, like priests of old who were assigned here or wanted to be here.
“It’s beautiful to have the house open again,” said David Desroches, another leader in the early-1990s efforts to re-open the church. “It’s going to re-energize the parish … bring life back to our block” having the pastor live there.
“This will finally unify us,” said lifelong parishioner Roger Fortin.
“It brings us all together,” instead of having the pastor live across the city.