By Tanya Connor
St. Anne Church in Ashburnham will be demolished and the Center Street property put up for sale, Father John F. Hamm, the administrator of St. Anne and St. Denis parishes, said this week. He said he did not know exactly when that will happen.
A consensus about the plan of action was arrived at Sunday at a meeting of parishioners, he said. He said he didn’t think anyone objected, although people are sad.
The town condemned the building – built in 1895, with an addition built in 1930 – after an inspection July 8 and ordered it be made safe or removed. It was estimated that repair costs would be $200,000 or more, which the parish of about 40 families cannot afford, according to meeting attendees.
The parish is responsible for demolition costs, which would be offset by the subsequent sale of the property, Father Hamm said. He said neither parish has a debt. He has been administrator there only since July 1.
About 50 members of the parishes attended the closed meeting to discuss options with him and Father Richard F. Reidy, vicar general of the Diocese, he said.
“We want to get the parishioners involved in every step of the process,” Father Hamm said. “They really care about the future of their worship and their identification as parishioners of St. Anne’s.
“It’s all about worshipping as God’s Church together. And because we have that strong sense of devotion we’re working well together.”
The parishes have been sharing ministries so long it’s the norm, and they’re working on establishing a combined parish council, he said. St. Anne’s did not have a parish counsel; everything was handled at St. Denis, he said.
St. Anne’s was so small that concerns were brought to the pastor informally, said Paula Pitkiewicz, a lifelong member. She said it will be helpful for St. Anne’s parishioners to be welcomed into committees at St. Denis.
“It’s like losing a family member,” she said about losing the church. “You have all of those good memories” of celebrations held there. She said everyone knew this would happen, but “knowing that and having it happen are two different things.”
It meant a lot to her parents when they moved there and found a welcoming community, she said. Their funerals were held there and an elderly parishioner has asked where she will be buried from, she said.
“I think most people (at St. Denis) are very sensitive to the situation and that will be helpful,” Miss Pitkiewicz said. “Pieces of St. Anne’s have been brought over.” She expressed special interest in a statue of St. Anne and the Virgin Mary.
“I guess they will find a place for it at St. Denis,” she said. “That’s very nice and very helpful.”
It was hard not having a Mass that they knew was the final Mass, she said.
Joan Webber, a St. Denis parishioner who’s helped with St. Anne’s music ministry for 24 years, said she proposed having a celebration “to mark the closing and say ‘goodbye.’”
Father Hamm said he hopes to hold it Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, by the outdoor statue of St. Anne.
Beginning July 12 St. Anne’s parishioners were welcomed to St. Denis for their one weekly Mass – 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
Starting this weekend, Sunday Masses at St. Denis will be at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., instead of the previous 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., Father Hamm said. Remaining the same are the 4:30 p.m. Lord’s Day vigil Mass and the 9 a.m. Masses Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“There are really four congregations,” Mrs. Webber said, expressing concern about fitting them into three Masses. She said St. Anne’s members lost their church suddenly and now, a few weeks later, they’re losing their Mass.
Father Hamm said they are still looking at the Mass schedule for the future.
David Leary, a lifelong St. Denis parishioner “on loan” to St. Anne’s music ministry for 20 years, said he assumed the previous two pastors didn’t have the heart to close St. Anne’s and were willing to “run back and forth” between the two churches.
But St. Anne’s had leaks, mold and structurally unsound stairs, he said, and he didn’t think anyone was surprised by the results of the inspection.
“The circumstances were a little shocking,” he said, adding that it was a “tough blow” to lose the church this way.
Asked if people realized the bad shape the church was in, Miss Pitkiewicz replied, “Yes and no. We didn’t know about the bell tower. We’ve been concerned about the roof for a long time.” (The building commissioner’s July 8 letter to the Diocese said no one should be on the roof, which is rotted in many areas and leaking into the bell tower.)
Miss Pitkiewicz said there was not opposition to demolishing the building; they don’t have the money to fix it. She said perhaps 25 people were active and contributing financially to St. Anne’s.
Father Hamm said there are to be more meetings to plan for the future.