St. Mark – St. Ambrose combine ends this month

Rev. Marcos Enrique playing the guitar during a recent youth group meeting at St. Mark’s Church on Dorchester Avenue. Cardinal Sean O’Malley has called for the 10-year collaboration between the St. Mark and nearby St. Ambrose parishes to end on June 17.

Two Catholic parishes in Dorchester that have been paired together for the last decade will end their collaborative model this month. St. Mark’s and St. Ambrose, both of which serve strong congregations of distinctive ethnic and linguistic communities, will move forward as independent parishes under a directive from Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

The decision was announced to parishioners in late May via a letter to both congregations. Father Marcos Enrique will be the pastor of St. Mark’s and Father Linh Nguyen will serve as the pastor of St. Ambrose.

Both parishes shared their Mass schedules, staff, and priests during the collaboration, but not their finances. Both are seen as thriving, though St. Ambrose boasts larger attendance and more weekly giving. St. Mark’s will move to expand its reach westward to Blue Hill Avenue to serve a large “unchurched” gap created by years of parish consolidation.

In a statement, a spokesman for Cardinal O’Malley called the move “a recognition about the uniqueness of each parish with a specific ethnic ministry and community."

“The parishes each have predominantly Hispanic (St. Mark’s) or Vietnamese (St. Ambrose) communities/parishioners. We think to respect this uniqueness and to best serve the pastoral needs of each parish, particularly given the language dimensions and richness in each of the two communities, [it’s best] to have the Hispanic parish overseen by a Hispanic pastor and likewise the Vietnamese parish led by a Vietnamese pastor.”

“In the end this is a good step for the two parishes and the people of God,” read the statement. The de-coupling is effective on June 17.

Linh had no immediate comment on the matter for St. Ambrose, which will likely see very little change and will be freed up to perhaps pursue an official designation as a Vietnamese parish as was done recently with St. Clement Church in Medford that includes the Blessed Andrew Phu-Yen School.

Unofficially, St. Ambrose has functioned as a Vietnamese community church with several Vietnamese language Masses, and a very large program for religious classes and Vietnamese language instruction for children and teens. By all accounts, the parish is thriving in attendance, growth, and donations.

More substantive changes are likely at St. Mark’s Church under the direction of Marcos, a 40-year-old priest who is a bi-lingual (English and Spanish). He has led the church for five years but has not been the administrator – a role Father Linh has filled under the collaboration.

Marcos said he was very enthusiastic for the new mission. “My primary job now is to help people understand that nothing is changing,” he said. “The first question people ask me is if we will be changing the Mass schedule. The answer is ‘no.’ Why would we? We are going to build on what we have and grow…We do want to grow and with growth will eventually come changes, I’m sure. There is no agenda, though, but to announce the Gospel.”


Above: Rev. Linh Nguyen.

That growth is likely to come from within the surrounding neighborhood, as the church has been pulling in new parishioners from west of Washington Street. Cardinal O’Malley has also identified a large gap in services to Catholics living beyond Codman Square where there is no church now, especially for Spanish-speakers. St. Katherine of Drexel in Grove Hall is specifically for African Catholics, St. Leo’s Church is long-closed, St. Peter’s is deemed too far away and serves mostly Cape Verdean populations, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (formerly St. Angela’s) is almost two miles away and serves a heavily Haitian Kreyol speaking community.

Marcos said he sees St. Mark’s as becoming one of the most diverse parishes in Dorchester, with a heavy concentration of Spanish speakers, but also a melting pot of Irish, other white Americans, Cape Verdeans, Vietnamese, and Caribbean folks, among others.

“People have already begun to ask if I’m turning this into a Hispanic parish,” said Father Marcos. “That is not the case and that has to be emphasized right now…I see St. Mark’s as having this two-fold mission. The priority mission is to attend to and build what we have here now – this neighborhood with its diversity of ethnicities and languages. The second priority is to have a mission territory and to expand…For us, our mission ground is everything that is west of Codman Square, as well as some other places. No one has even begun to address the Central American population now locating in the Bowdoin-Geneva areas.”

The effort will also include strengthening the youth program that exists, with the parish commencing the fourth year of a summer, faith-based youth camp this July and August.

The reception to the revised arrangement so far has been careful with some noting skepticism, but most expressing to Marcos that it is seen as an “affirmation” from the cardinal.

“Whenever there are changes or collaborations, the first questions are always when is one of the churches going to close?” said Marcos. “This decision affirms that St. Mark’s Parish has an important mission ahead of it.”

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter