There has been a good deal of change within Dorchester’s Catholic parishes in recent years and churchgoers here should expect to see more of the same in the coming months. Earlier this year, St. Brendan and St. Ann parishes were officially joined as a “collaborative” under one pastor, Rev. Jason M. Makos. Over the next several months, the rest of the neighborhood’s churches will form unions— all of them aimed at streamlining administration and boosting church attendance and finances.
The Archdiocese of Boston is now entering the third phase of a nine-year process of reorganizing the region’s parishes – a move necessitated by a shortage of priests coupled with a steady drop in churchgoers, estimated at some 5,000 per year. The archdiocese has done a good job in explaining what its pastoral reorganization plan – dubbed Disciples in Mission – means and how it will go into effect. Still, as news filters out from altar announcements and spreads out imperfectly via word of mouth, especially in the summer season with many of the faithful away on holiday, there can be uncertainty and anxiety.
Last weekend, for example, many parishioners in St. Mark’s were correctly informed that their longtime leader, Rev. Dan Finn, will resign as pastor. It is true that Fr. Finn has submitted his letter of resignation, but all Dorchester pastors (except Fr. Makos) are required to resign by September as part of the reorganization plan. They can then seek to be installed as the pastors of the newly formed collaboratives, decisions that are scheduled to be made by December.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley has tapped Rev. Paul Soper, the former pastor of Dorchester’s Blessed Mother Teresa Parish, to oversee the Disciples in Mission plan. As Fr. Soper explained to the Reporter this week, each of the neighborhood’s existing pastors— Fr. Vincent Daily (St. Gregory’s), Fr. Bill Joy (St. Matthew’s/St. Angela’s), Fr. Jack Ahern (St. Peter/Holy Family/Blessed Mother Teresa) and Fr. Finn — can submit his name for consideration to lead one of the new collaboratives that will be formed. In fact, any priest in the archdiocese can “put in” for a pastor job at any new collaborative in the coming weeks.
The required resignations “make the collaborative an open parish and allows the process to go forward in deciding who should be the pastor,” said Fr. Soper.
It is important to note that the new collaboratives formed in this current phase will not go into effect until next June. Until that time, existing pastors are expected to stay in their current roles, even though they have, as requested, tendered their resignations.
Fr. Soper notes that more than half of the pastors who have been chosen to lead new collaboratives were drawn from those parishes themselves. And, while it’s too early to measure the success of the collaborative effort, Fr. Soper says that the groupings have not caused any harm.
“What we do know is that it’s not crashing,” he said. “There have been some adjustments, but we’re doing this very flexibly and taking the feedback of the pastors very seriously.”
Despite the archdiocese’s best intentions, there is bound to be some anxiety caused by the reorganization. It is anticipated by many observers that Fr. Finn, who has been ill over the last several months, will not seek to become the pastor of the St. Mark-St. Ambrose collaborative. If that is the case, his departure will be a tough loss for the neighborhood, which has benefited mightily from his steady and compassionate stewardship of his parish and other nearby churches.