Fate of St. Brendan church now up to Cardinal O’Malley

St. Brendan Church dedication, Sun., November 5, 1933.

The doors to St. Brendan church could be closed permanently by May 31 as parishioners await a formal decision from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who has been asked by the church’s pastor to “relegate” the church, a formal step that, if approved, would end its use as worship space after nearly 90 years.

The closing would set the stage for the likely redevelopment of the Gallivan Boulevard edifice, which opened in 1933 when the neighborhood was bursting with Catholic congregants.

A worsening fiscal crisis has been at the center of a prolonged discussion about the building’s fate since at least 2018, when church leaders began meeting to audit the parish’s debt and likely deferred maintenance costs, which are now thought to be in excess of $3 million. A steady plunge in weekly attendance and donations has also complicated matters for the onetime St. Brendan Parish, which officially merged with Neponset’s St. Ann Parish to form a new congregation – St. Martin de Porres Parish, in 2018.

In a three-page letter dated Feb. 10, the new parish’s latest pastor — Rev. Chris 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.

This week, Palladino told the Reporter that no repairs have been made to the church, despite worsening conditions that he worries could be a safety issue for churchgoers, including crumbling concrete stairs at the entrance.

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

And while Palladino acknowledges that some parishioners aren’t happy, he added: “I haven’t heard much push-back to the decision, even from my brides.”

In his more formal letter, Palladino told O’Malley that surprisingly few Catholics in Dorchester had engaged in a “consultation” process aimed at advising his decision. He noted that “only 28 submissions” via email and “two physical letters” had been received on the matter and that 150 people attended one of several parish meetings held on the subject.

The low rate of engagement “for such a grave matter indicates an indifference and/or disdain for the Church,” he posited.

In a particularly pointed paragraph that references the worldwide clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the Boston archdiocese in particular for the last 20 years, he wrote: “Your Eminence, I must communicate to you the pain and anger my Parishioners have toward you and the Archdiocese that they find themselves in this situation which they believe could have been avoided. I invite you to consider celebrating Mass at St. Brendan Church and to pastorally address those who feel abandoned, neglected, and punished. They will remind you of the scandalous and evil men that were assigned here in the past that inflicted such pain on generations of the Faithful.”

[One of the most infamous child sexual predators in church history— Rev. John Geoghan— was assigned to St. Brendan in the 1980s. Now dead, he was alleged to have victimized more than 130 children and teens at several parishes — including St. Brendan— over three decades, according to the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into priestly abuse.]

Noting the proximity of the two parish churches – “only 1.1 miles apart”— Palladino advised that “The Church of St. Ann is more than adequate to meet the sacramental needs of the parishioners, and I can assure you that the good of souls would suffer no detriment by relegating the Church of St. Brendan.”

The Reporter asked the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Boston for official comment on the pastor’s letter requesting the closing of the church, but received no response by this week’s press time. In a letter printed in the parish bulletin last weekend, Palladino told parishioners that he did not know when a decision might be rendered by the cardinal.

He wrote: “Given the uncertainty of when a decision will be made, and the inability to fund the necessary $1.6 million in necessary repairs at St. Brendan Church needed within the next 18 months, I will be holding firm to the end of all services…. effective May 31, 2022.”

Among other details shared by Palladino in his correspondence to O’Malley, he noted that weekly attendance at Mass had declined from 600 in 2018 to 200 in recent months.

According to a facility assessment conducted as part of the review, Palladino wrote that St. Brendan church “needs approximately $2.5 million in repairs, with $1.6 million necessary within 18 months.” The parish, he said, is already $1 million in debt to the archdiocese for past loans, including $200,000 for the St. Brendan Grammar School, which is not expected to be impacted by the closing of the church building.

News of the likely closure was telegraphed last year when Palladino told parishioners, “As your pastor, I am not going to kick the can down the road any longer.” He added: “We must face reality that the church is beyond our ability to fix and most certainly beyond our capacity to pay for… We cannot expect our young families or prospective parishioners to worship in a church that is in such disrepair.”

If it is closed, the church would join several other Dorchester Catholic parish churches that have shuttered over the last two decades, including St. William’s on Dorchester Avenue, which was absorbed into a newly named parish— Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in 2004. The former church building is now a worship space for the Waymark Seventh Day Adventist congregation. St. Matthew’s church on Stanton Street closed in 2020. St. Kevin’s church in Uphams Corner, which closed in the 1990s, has since been replaced by an apartment building. The former St. Leo’s church, located in the west of Washington neighborhood near Franklin Field, now houses a Baptist congregation.

Palladino, who is also a canon lawyer, said this week that it is premature to envision what might happen with the church site if it is relegated. A residential re-use along the boulevard would likely be the best use, he said, adding, “but if it goes on appeal, the church could sit there and continue to decline.”

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