St. Brendan Church on Gallivan Boulevard will close its doors as a worship space next month, per order of its current pastor, Fr. Chris Palladino, who says that the building’s worsening physical condition is a safety hazard. After consultation with parishioners, the pastor has also recommended that Cardinal O’Malley close the church permanently through a canon law process called “relegation”— a decision that is still pending as of this writing.
News of the imminent closure has upset some longtime parishioners who feel that the current fiscal crisis — and its related drop in attendance at Masses— is linked to the clergy sex abuse scandal that has enveloped the Boston church in recent decades. This week, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen gave voice to some who feel strongly that St. Brendan has been abandoned by church leaders, both literally and spiritually. They feel, Cullen suggests, that they are being penalized for the wrongdoing of long-dead clergymen who either abused kids or enabled the abusers.
Last week, we published a letter from Lauren O’Brien, a devout parishioner who appealed to O’Malley for a reprieve.
“We are disheartened, but we are not yet broken,” she wrote. “We are a strong community with many contractors and tradespeople willing to help. Please give us a period of reprieve and let us raise funds to save Our Church….Keep a beacon of our faith on Gallivan Boulevard. Let us keep Catholicism alive in our Dorchester neighborhood.”
There are those who might dismiss her appeal — and those expressed in Kevin Cullen’s article— as sentimental parochialism. The Globe’s comment section under Cullen’s column reveals a clear undercurrent of anti-Catholic bigotry among some of the more virulent commenters.
But those who have a special attachment to St. Brendan— or any church, mosque, or synagogue — should not be held in such contempt. These buildings are sacred places to the generations of men, women, and children who have been raised in this part of the city. The loss of one’s parish is a trauma for hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who are without fault in its demise. Those who delight in such an outcome for our neighbors might want to reflect on their lack of empathy and compassion.
St. Brendan’s parishioners, sadly, may well find common ground with other Dorchester Catholics who have suffered through closures, mergers and, in some cases, the elimination of long-cherished worship spaces in the last 25 years. Even as we report on the crisis facing St. Brendan, our pages include other stories about what will likely be done with another recently shuttered church, St. Matthew’s. Developers are currently planning housing for that Stanton Street location, which will likely require the demolition of the church, an outcome not without precedent in recent years.
St. Kevin Church in Uphams Corner was razed in 2014 to make room for apartments. St. Brendan church, if this relegation process moves ahead, will likely be dismantled as well to clear the way for redevelopment.
The contraction of Catholic Dorchester is not a sudden event, and it’s not the result of one man’s criminal deeds. It has been many years in the making, cemented by shifting demographics and a move away from religious piety among younger Americans.
But the fact that it has been telegraphed for years ahead of time certainly does not make it cause for celebration. For many in this part of the city, it’s more a case of: “There but for the grace of God go we.”