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Leicester parishes officially merge

Posted By December 4, 2014 | 5:16 pm | Lead Story #2
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By Tanya Connor

Two Leicester parishes, St. Joseph and St. Pius X, were officially merged into a new parish called St. Joseph-St. Pius X at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 29.
The parishes celebrated the merger the previous weekend, at Lord’s Day Masses for the feast of Christ the King, according to Father Robert A. Loftus, pastor.
All Christ the King Masses were at St. Joseph’s Church, since it is being closed for the winter. It will reopen as a chapel of convenience in the spring, said Father Loftus, who has been serving as pastor of the two parishes.
At those Masses a candle representing each parish was lit, and from them a unity candle was lit. He credited the parish secretary, Lucille Willis, with that idea.
Following the 11:15 a.m. Mass Nov. 23 about 200 members of both parishes attended a banquet in St. Joseph’s hall beneath the church, he said. It included a slide show and a history of each parish.
All Lord’s Day Masses are now at St. Pius Church, 1154 Main St., Father Loftus said. Starting in the spring, St. Joseph’s can be used for special occasions, including weddings and funerals.
Morning Mass, 8:30 Monday through Thursday, will still be held in the Father Stephen D. Johnson Memorial Chapel. The chapel is in the Mother St. John House, 761 Main St., the former convent behind St. Joseph’s Church. The parish offices will continue to be located there, Father Loftus said. That building will also house the rectory, and the present rectory, next to St. Joseph’s, will be closed and winterized. Although it has no “structural issues,” it will probably have to be torn down eventually, he said.
“It’s just very expensive to keep and the parish is in serious debt,” he said.
The fourth building on St. Joseph’s property – the former school behind the church – will continue to be used for religious education classes, the “New To You” thrift shop and a day care which rents space there, Father Loftus said.
St. Pius’ rectory had been sold to a parishioner and is now a private home, he said.
The changes, including the new parish’s name, were what the parish council recommended to parishioners at a meeting a few months ago, Father Loftus said. The approximately 200 attendees unanimously approved it on a voice vote, he said.
The parish council recommended this to the diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee, which recommended the plan to Bishop McManus and the Presbyteral Council.
For many years the two parishes have shared a pastor and staff and had one parish council and one finance committee, Father Loftus said.
The parishes began sharing a pastor in 1989. On Oct. 6 of that year Father John J. Dyer, pastor of St. Joseph’s since June, was also named pastor of St. Pius X.
In the fall of 1991 the two parishes, which by then also shared an associate pastor, combined their religious education programs. A Catholic Free Press story at the time noted that Father Dyer said Bishop Harrington wanted them to remain two parishes but work together, sharing resources and talents as much as possible.  Father Dyer said Masses, parish councils, finance boards and finances were separate.
Father Loftus said he read Bishop McManus’ decree announcing the merger at Masses last weekend.
“People are hurt” by the changes, he said. But, he added, “because they’ve been together so long, there was a sense of community; people were going to each other’s churches. …
“In so many ways they’ve been united before this, except for record-keeping. Records were separate because there were two different parishes.” Now there will be one book for the sacramental records. Finances were also separate, but will now be merged, he said. The decree says the new parish will assume the goods, assets, burdens and liabilities of the two parishes.
“I have not heard too many objections,” though that doesn’t mean there aren’t some, Father Loftus said. “People love this church” (St. Joseph’s). But, he said, “They seem pretty realistic. They’re good people. Going forward will be made stronger by this.”