Catholic Free Press

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  • Jun
  • 21

Being small is good for some things, but not others

Posted By June 21, 2012 | 1:18 pm | Lead Story #3
SM manchaug ChurchWEB

By Tanya Connor

“I think we liked the smallness of the parish, just a very sacred worshipping atmosphere. … For years we did foster care for Catholic Charities. If the baby cried, people would turn and smile. You can go to a large parish and you kind of get lost.”
Phyllis Charpentier was speaking of her parish of about 20 years – St. Anne’s in the Manchaug section of Sutton.
The “smallness” had its down side, however. St. Anne’s will merge with St. Mark Parish in Sutton on June 30, Bishop McManus announced in a decree dated June 11. Priests and parishioners of both parishes had already been informed and prepared for the change.
“You try to leave the people as positive as you can in a difficult situation,” said Father Patrick J. Hawthorne, St. Anne’s pastor. So June 10 he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving to recall the good done in the parish, he said. Since St. Anne’s is to remain open as a chapel, he said, he altered prayers for a parish closing Mass, thanking God at various sites around the church for what happened there, such as baptisms at the baptismal font. A cookout and games followed Mass.
“I think it helped to ease some of the pain, and maybe the anger,” Father Hawthorne said.
He said he will celebrate his last Lord’s Day Masses there at 4 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. Sunday, and the last weekday Masses there at 8:30 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, before moving on to his new assignment, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Worcester.
Father Michael A. DiGeronimo, St. Mark’s pastor, said after that there will be one Mass a week at St. Anne’s: at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. He will celebrate it July 1, and after that Father Thomas B. Fleming, assigned to emergency response ministry, will be the scheduled celebrant, he said.
Father DiGeronimo said he and about seven St. Mark’s parishioners went to St. Anne’s for a “meet and greet” June 13, taking St. Mark’s Sunday bulletin and a parish ministries list. He said about 20 St. Anne’s parishioners came.
“We just extended a hand of friendship to them,” introducing them to the parish, inviting them to be part of it, he said. “It was a friendly evening. I think they’re still kind of in shock,” and thinking about what comes next, which is natural in such a situation.
“We were very touched by the meeting,” Mrs. Charpentier said. “They were welcoming and sincere. Father DiGeronimo shared with us about his life and his experience as a priest.” She and a St. Mark’s parishioner she sat next to hugged, cried and smiled, she said.
“We do live closer to St. Denis,” she said of the Catholic parish in Douglas. “But we’re thinking we will look at St. Mark’s.”
“I’m going where they’re going until I’m 16 and I can drive myself,” Mrs. Charpentier’s 15-year-old, Rose, said of her parents and her plans. Of the news about St. Anne’s she said, “It kind of stinks that it’s closing.”
“It’s been difficult for me,” said David J. Picard, baptized at St. Anne’s nearly 80 years ago and a member ever since. “It’s one of those things that comes and goes. It’s sad to see it go. It’s probably the shortage of priests. I think it’s been pretty active; they did a lot, for a limited number of people.”
He said he enjoyed talking with Father DiGeronimo, who “seemed to be a fine priest,” but he and his wife will go to St. Denis.
“Often through the years you hear rumors – you think you could be closing,” Mrs. Charpentier said. She said parishioners took pride in the fact that they had built the church and rectory after a fire destroyed the previous ones, and they had no debt. But she said their numbers and were dwindling and there is a priest shortage.
“Why send a healthy priest here if you need one at a parish with 1,000 families?” she asked.
Father Hawthorne said there were very few people at St. Anne’s for many years; in his one year there he baptized two babies and celebrated two funerals, and about 120 people total attended the three Lord’s Day Masses.
“The ones who came were generous, but there wasn’t enough,” he said; the collection brought in about $1,100 a week, and repairs are needed. It was unfair that the same people were always pressed into service, “but even with their small numbers they did great things,” he said.
“Some people thought that, with Father Pat, they were giving us a chance to build, build families, because he’s so lively,” Mrs. Charpentier said of Father Hawthorne being assigned pastor there last year. “So we didn’t know if he was closing us or if he was going to build us. But he said, ‘Let’s try,’” and let them try new things.
“He’s the funnest priest I ever met,” Rose said.
Her mother said she thought it would have been very difficult for Father Stanley F. Krutcik, their previous pastor, to close St. Anne’s, as he’d been there so long.
Father Hawthorne said he, Father DiGeronimo and St. Denis’ retiring pastor, Father William N. Cormier, met with the diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee, which then sent representatives to get input from St. Anne’s parishioners to share with Bishop McManus, who made the final decision.
“I think that process was to show us how small we were,” Mrs. Charpentier said of committee members’ first visit. They asked parishioners where they wanted to go, and told them St. Anne’s is the smallest of three area parishes, the others being St. Mark’s and St. Denis, she said. And, unlike them, St. Anne’s is not handicapped accessible. Later parishioners were told St. Anne’s  would merge with St. Mark’s, she said.
“That was a shock,” she said. “We were originally a mission of St. Denis,” and many older parishioners have plots in St. Denis’ cemetery.
Father Hawthorne said there were good arguments on both sides, for merging St. Anne’s with St. Mark or St. Denis. He said he thought both parishes would welcome St. Anne’s parishioners, whose sacramental records will be kept safely at St. Mark’s.
He said he told his parishioners: “You’re not refugees. Don’t settle for sitting in the back with the rest of the Catholics. Sit up front and get involved.”

St. Anne’s grew from St. Denis   

SUTTON – St. Anne’s Parish in  Manchaug began as mission of St. Denis in Douglas.
It served a growing Catholic population in the area, most of them French-Canadian families. They brought their language and their faith to the small mill and farming village. First they walked the two miles to St. Denis for Mass and the sacraments.
According to Father John J. McCoy, in his “History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Springfield,” published in 1900, a Father Noiseux celebrated the first Mass in Manchaug in 1859 in a brick house owned by the Mumford Manufacturing Co. Later Father Napoleon Meigneault came from St. Louis Parish in Webster to celebrate Mass in a barn, the only building big enough to hold the 120 Catholics in town.
In 1864 the Mumford company granted Father Edward Sheridan, St. Denis’ pastor, permission to celebrate Mass in the Baptist church. That, said Father McCoy, upset the Baptist community. So Mass subsequently was celebrated in a private home. In 1883, Father Alexis Delphos built a church, dedicated “to God under the patronage of St. Anne” on Thanksgiving Day.
Father Delphos, who helped care for the sick and aged, according to Father McCoy, gathered a group of women to help with that work. They formed the Little Franciscan Sisters, an order who eventually cared for sick and elderly at the St. Francis Home in Worcester.
By the end of the 1800s the Catholic population of Manchaug  had grown to about 1,600, almost all of them of French-Canadian heritage. In January 1900, Bishop Thomas Beaven of Springfield established St. Anne’s as a parish, with Father J. Victor Campeau as its first  pastor.
In 1924 the church, which Father Campeau previously had expanded to accommodate 700 people, burned, along with the rectory, convent, the school and several homes. St. Anne’s parishioners attended Mass for the next 29 years on the second floor of the Manchaug store.
In 1951 parishioners broke ground for a new church. Bishop Wright dedicated it on June 21, 1953. People raised money to pay for it through monthly ham and bean suppers, food and rummage sales, bazaars, raffles, whist parties, auctions and Sunday socials. The mortgage was paid off by 1965. A new rectory was built in 1970 and the parishioners used their time-tested method of fund-raising to pay that mortgage, too.