Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • May
  • 15

St. Stephen’s, Holy Family to share one pastor

Posted By May 15, 2017 | 9:28 pm | Local
Nora M. Donoghue sells roses at her parish, St. Stephen's in Worcester, on Mother's Day. The proceeds were to  benefit Problem Pregnancy, which helps mothers in difficult situations.
Nora M. Donoghue sells roses at her parish, St. Stephen's in Worcester, on Mother's Day. The proceeds were to benefit Problem Pregnancy, which helps mothers in difficult situations.
By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
WORCESTER – St. Stephen and Holy Family parishes are to begin sharing a pastor July 1, both pastors announced last weekend.
They said the parishes are not merging. St. Stephen’s Church and Holy Family’s church building – St. Joseph’s – will be used.
Father Steven M. LaBaire, Holy Family’s pastor, said he will be pastor of both parishes and have two associate pastors, Father Adriano Lessa-Natalino, currently at Holy Family, and a new associate.
Father H. Edward Chalmers, pastor of St. Stephen’s, which has a school, said Bishop McManus is concerned about his health and is transferring him, hoping to reduce his stress. The priest did not say where he’s going.
Last fall the parishes’ confirmation classes and weekday Masses were combined, those involved said. Now 8:30 a.m. Masses are celebrated Monday, Wednesday and Friday at St. Stephen’s and Tuesday and Thursday at Holy Family. St. Stephen’s 8 a.m. Saturday Mass is to end at the end of June.
The weekend of June 3 and 4 the new weekend Mass schedule will begin, Father Chalmers told his congregation Sunday. St. Stephen’s Masses will be at 4 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday.
Despite the challenges, people at both churches expressed an acceptance of change, which isn’t new to some.
“I need to pray on it – too many changes at once,” David Desroches said after Mass Saturday at Holy Family. He said parishioners are acclimating to the Brazilian and Haitian communities there, which is going well.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said of including St. Stephen’s community. “I just need to think about it and see where it’s going. … It’s almost become the way of this parish.”
He and his family were among those who occupied St. Joseph’s Church, which was to be closed after Bishop Harrington merged St. Joseph and Notre Dame des Canadiens parishes in 1992. In 1996, Bishop Reilly reopened St. Joseph’s Church as part of the merged parish. In 2008 Bishop McManus merged the parish with Holy Name of Jesus Parish and formed the present Holy Family Parish, which uses St. Joseph’s Church building. Both Holy Name and Notre Dame churches have been sold.
“‘Build on what we have been given’ – I took those words to heart,” said Terry Turgeon, another 1990s protester. “This is just another step.”
“Can we build on what we have been given?” Father LaBaire had asked in his homily Saturday.
He’d talked about Irish immigrants worshipping at St. John Parish, then other immigrants wanting their own churches.
“Over a century ago, two distinct parishes were established in the Grafton Hill section of Worcester to serve once-flourishing Irish and French-Canadian Catholic populations,” said this week’s announcement, which was included in Holy Family’s  bulletin.   Father LaBaire said he also e-mailed parishioners the news.
Now the parishes must respond to changes in populations, the announcement said. It told about the Brazilian and Haitian communities at Holy Family, and said, “ministries to other linguistic and cultural communities will be undertaken at both parishes.… “Two venerable ‘Catholic neighbors’ … will work together to serve the spiritual needs of a diverse and ever-changing Catholic population.”
Announcing the change at Mass, Father LaBaire said people’s responses have ranged from fear to silence, but he most appreciated the question, “How can I help?”
Maybe now “the Holy Spirit’s calling us to work together,” he said. “God forbid that our buildings … keep us separate as Catholics, as beautiful as they might be.… Jesus will tell us, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled.’”
In his homily Sunday, Father Chalmers said it is important to nourish faith by praying and worshipping together. He talked about the Blessed Mother’s apparitions at Fatima, and called for turning from oneself to Jesus.
Announcing the change, he said it is sad to leave, but changing parishes is part of priests’ lives. He encouraged parishioners to be grateful for the time he and they have had together and to rejoice in the time they have left. He said they’ll always be in his prayers and heart.
“It’s going to be a big loss,” James Ridick, who does custodial work at St. Stephen’s, said about his pastor and boss. “He is a people-person, and that’s where it begins.… Change does occur; it’s the reality of life.”
“This is a priest I love like a brother,” said Deacon Bruce R. Vidito, who serves at St. Stephen’s. He said Father Chalmers’ leaving is sad, but he’s happy for him to get more peace and quiet.
Lifelong parishioner Nora M. Donoghue, 87, also praised their “wonderful pastor” who she said knows his parishioners.
She said that in the past she was part of a cluster committee in which representatives of St. Stephen’s, Notre Dame-St. Joseph, St. Margaret Mary and Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishes gathered data about their parishes in an effort to see what resources they could share. It was a good process, but hard where changes were made, she said.
Since then, St. Margaret Mary and Our Lady of Mount Carmel have each merged with another parish and neither of their church buildings is being used for Catholic worship.
“I understand intellectually … the realities of necessary decisions in terms of the data,” Ms. Donoghue said. “The younger population is not attending,” and demographics have changed. “But it’s very hard with parishioners with so much loyalty here…. Other parishes have been through this. But life goes on.”
She also mentioned hopeful signs: faithful young parishioners, 18 first Communion students and 17 people receiving sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
“That’s what the future is all about and that’s what the Church is all about,” she said.