Cardinal holds off closing St. Brendan Church, sets review

St. Brendan Church on Gallivan Boulevard.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley today issued a reprieve for a Dorchester Catholic Church that was due to close its doors at the end of this month.

"After consulting with your pastor, Fr. Chris Palladino, and Archdiocesan leadership, we recognize that many in the parish and the wider community are not in favor of suspending liturgies at St. Brendan’s Church," O'Malley wrote. "It seems clear that more discussion about these matters is needed. For that reason, we are not suspending liturgies at St. Brendan’s Church on May 31st."

In his letter, O'Malley says that a new working group will be set up to review the church's future with a deadline of Sept. 30.

The announcement comes in response to mounting pressure from longtime parishioners who are dead-set against any closure. An online petition appealing for the church to "remain open for worship while ensuring all considerations are given to the past, present, and future worshippers" has been picking up steam and a planned vigil set for the date of the closure— May 31— was in the works.

In March, the current pastor requested that the church on Gallivan Boulevard be "relegated" by O'Malley— a formal step that— if carried out— would mean that the building would no longer be considered worship space. The pastor, Rev. Chris Palladino, informed parishioners that the church would close on May 31 regardless of when O'Malley ruled on the matter due to what he has characterized as unsafe and worsening physical conditions at the church.

St. Brendan and St. Ann churches are both part of one parish— St. Martin de Porres— that was created in 2018. The parish has amassed significant debt and deferred maintenance costs in excess of $3 million by some reports. A steady plunge in weekly attendance and donations has also complicated matters.

In a three-page letter dated Feb. 10, Palladino advised O’Malley that the church building has been “in obvious decline for years” and noted that he was “shocked to discover the gravity of its poor condition” upon taking up pastoral duties there in July 2021.

“We’re in crisis mode,” Palladino told the Reporter in March, explaining that he decided to transfer all liturgies, including weddings, to St. Ann’s church beginning June 1 “regardless” of the decision-making timeline with the archdiocese.

In his letter dated May 20, O'Malley underlined the "compelling financial pressures that necessitate decisions about how the parish will assure its future."

"The decisions that must be reached impact all those who worship at St. Ann Church, St. Brendan Church, as well as the St. Brendan school families," O'Malley wrote. "St. Martin de Porres Parish is facing significant operating shortfalls and the need for significant capital improvements for the functionality and safety of the buildings. Meeting this challenge will require the resources of the community, the parish, and the school. Therefore, I am asking that a working group, which will include parish representation, develop a financial plan by September 30, 2022, presenting a recommendation for the buildings and operations the parish can support. It is important that serious consideration is given to the impact that recommendations would have on both the parish and the school. Details about this process will be forthcoming.

O'Malley's letter concludes: "It is my hope that this additional time for parish planning will lead to consensus regarding the best options that are feasible and can be sustained."

In a messsge to parishioners sent on May 21, Fr. Palladino said: "As directed by the Cardinal, the normal liturgy schedule will remain; however, we must realize that the disrepair of the church continues to progress, attendance continues to decrease and financial woes persist.

"I have requested to remain as your pastor through this process and ask for your continued prayers for our parish family."

News of the cardinal’s decision was hailed by parishioners, including John O’Toole, one of several community leaders who organized push-back to the May 31 closing plan. O’Toole, who previously served on the parish council for two decades, said in an interview that the mood in the community is thankful and optimistic given Friday's news.

“We are a blue-collar neighborhood and we’ve always been willing to help ourselves in this neighborhood. There’s some simple preventative maintenance that should alleviate a lot of problems at the church,” he said, adding:

“So, we’re hopeful and grateful here and we have an open ear. We’re grateful for the opportunity to be heard.”

Lauren O’Brien, a lifelong St. Brendan congregant who penned an appeal to O’Malley that was published in the Reporter in April, thanked the Cardinal “for hearing our plea and halting the closure of our Church.”

She told the Reporter: “I hope that we can work together on a plan to keep St Brendan Church open for generations to come. We still have much work to do in a short period of time and this Pentecost we are praying the Holy Spirit will empower us. 

“I hope the archdiocese will consider providing us strong supportive pastoral leadership during this time to partner with this community, help reinvigorate the Catholic Faith here and support efforts to find the best path forward. “Getting Catholics in the neighborhood to come home to St. Brendan Church will require enthusiastic and creative evangelization.”

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Fri, May 20 and updated on Wed., May 25 with reaction from parishioners.

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