St. Francis of Assisi Closing Confusion

For those following the saga of the bungled communication around the announced closing of St. Francis of Assisi in Cambridge, the plot thickens.

To be clear, BCI wishes we did not find ourselves having to even write this blog or communicate what is happening to the parishioners. We do not want to be publicly calling out mismanagement and naming names.  But if the archdiocese is unable to handle this effectively, someone ought to step in to fill the void. Because of all of the criticism we took for naming names a few days ago, for today, we will leave the parties responsible for fixing this problem unnamed. Now back to the saga.

Even though it was announced verbally to parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi that their parish would close and their $1.1M “coffers” would go to the welcoming parish, St. Anthony of Padua, and even though it was announced in writing to St. Anthony of Padua that neighboring St. Francis would close (in a notice posted here at this blog), yesterday we learned the story is changing. Various archdiocesan officials said publicly  yesterday that there was some “miscommunication”–that no closing was ordered, and a process will be undertaken to determine the future of the parish, even if the logical (but not inevitable) outcome is that the parish will close.  Hmm.

BCI has written to the archdiocese and asked for public clarification because parishioners are now thoroughly confused. How can the souls of faithful Catholics be led to salvation when their human bodies are confused about where they will be going to daily or weekly Mass to receive the Eucharist in the future?

In the meantime, here is a letter written by the former pastor of St. Francis, Fr. Norbet De Amato, O.F.M, to then-Archbishop O’Malley in 2004 describing why the parish should remain open.  Here is a .pdf but the text is reproduced below:

April 15, 2004
His Excellency
Sean P. O’Malley
Archbishop of Boston, O.F M. Cap,
2121 Commonwealth Avenue
Brighton, MA 02135-3193

Dear Archbishop O’Malley:

In compliance with the wishes of Bishop Richard G. Lennon, I am submitting the following reasons why I believe the parish of St. Francis of Assisi, East Cambridge, should remain open to the community. Supporting documentation regarding the demographics of East Cambridge was previously submitted during our Cluster Meetings. Due to Bishop Lennon’s request to limit the response to two pages, I am omitting the additional documentation but will forward upon request. The following addresses the demographic and growing needs of our community.

The demographics and census information for the City of Cambridge indicate that housing costs have been on the rise. In order to meet the needs of families in the East Cambridge Neighborhood, two projects are underway:

The first project is for affordable housing on the Comer of Second and Cambridge Streets, for 200 units.

The second project of great magnitude is North Point. This will be located at the intersection of First, Cambridge and O’Brien Highway. The project will be home to 5,000 housing and retail shopping units slated for construction when the T Lechmere Station is moved.

Currently, East Cambridge houses three new hotels and additional hotels located within walking distance from our parish. The close proximity andlocation of the Church on a main street allows visitors to attend services on Sunday and Holy Days. Our Chapel is open from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Daily Mass is celebrated at 7:00 a.m. allowing parishioners and workers in the area to start their day with prayer. A 12:10 p.m. Mass is celebrated on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Tuesday Mass is followed by St. Anthony Novena.

Our Parish is geographically located in a business area of the city serving the needs of many working people. The employees of Middlesex County Court Houses visit the Church on a regular basis. In addition to court personnel, staff from businesses and industries in the area uses the Church. The 12:10 P.M. Mass allows parishioners and workers the availability to attend services.

When 9-11 occurred, the Church opened its doors to all workers in the community. As a result of911, AA was no longer allowed to use the
Court House facility to house its groups. St. Francis is now the host site for AA Meetings. In the past, St. Francis housed the Youth Center until its new location was built. In the future, St. Francis will find open its doors to meet the needs of its changing community. Discussion of a child care or recreation center has taken place.

Our current parishioners often depend on the needs of an Italian Speaking Priest. We are blessed with Franciscan Friars enabling us to provide language services. Many of our parishioners are elderly and depend on our services for social stimulation. There is an 8 a.m. Sunday Mass in Italian for our Italian parishioners.

Currently, we host a weekly neighborhood macaroni and meat ball dinner followed by bingo open to the entire neighborhood. There are additional Italian Religious and Social Clubs who return to the Church annually to help celebrate their heritage and tradition.

Fraternally yours,

Fr. Norbet De Amato, O.F.M.
Pastor

BCI understands that the 2004 letter still accurately describes the parish situation today, including the anticipated developments at Northpoint.

As was stated before by BCI, we are not opining on whether the parish should stay open or closed–that decision rests with Cardinal O’Malley–after appropriate consultations and canonical processes are followed.  Just seems to us and a growing number of others that none of the appropriate consultations and canonical processes have been followed, yet the parishioners were told their parish is closing, someone leaked word to a developer the parish was closing, and the developer is sniffing around already trying to evaluate the potential for developing condos at the property.

Who is in charge of this situation? Is anyone else asking what is wrong with this picture?

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12 Responses to St. Francis of Assisi Closing Confusion

  1. marie elena saccoccio says:

    For those readers unfamiliar with East Cambridge,the home to St. Francis of Assisi, today’s Boston Globe has an informative article about the amount of development planned in yet another section of East Cambridge, Kendall Square. MIT has plans to infuse 700 million in revitalization and redevelopement of their property in that area, the biotech capital of the country, if not the world.. Note, this is East Cambridge and independent of the Northpoint proposal of 5K units planned across from Lechmere T Station. Here is a link to the Globe article:

    http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/11/30/mit_injecting_life_into_kendall_square/?p1=Local_Links

    • John Sousa says:

      Marie,

      I am a parishioner at Saint ANthony’s Church and have become a bit frustrated at your comments about our parish over the past week. I can appreciate your anger and dismay at losing your pastor, Father Norbert, and trying to face the reality of your parish closing in the future.

      We have been asked by Father Walter and Father Jim to begin praying for you and your parish during this difficult time. Those were the first words of their mouths last weekend. Pray. Second, they asked us to open our arms to welcome our brothers and sisters from up the street. And yet it seems that you keep putting us down and criticizing us.

      Here are some corrections to you and others who read this blog:

      1. We are a Portuguese speaking parish but we do have two English Masses every weekend (4:00pm Saturday and 9:45am Family Mass on Sunday). Our parish has not only portuguese members but members from africa and south america. Many of the original immigrants are older now and their children and families participate in the life of this community. We are proud of our portuguese heritage. But we are also a welcoming community and are ready to have you celebrate with us.

      2. We are not POOR! I do not know where the money will go from your parish but we do not need it. If you even cared, you could look at our annual parish budget that Father Walter faithfully releases every year and would see we pay our bills and have some money left over for major projects. So, before making such outrageous statements about our financial health, please look into it.

      3. The development in the East Cambridge area has brought relatively no new Catholics. We have new families and couples who continue to join us but I believe that the Northpoint project has not brought any significant increase in Catholic population. So, your argument about all the new developments and so many more Catholics is again false and without any data backup. Where are the Catholics then?

      Yes, demographics have changed greatly in this East Cambridge area. Sadly, the faithful Catholics who filled Saint Francis, Sacred Heart, and Saint ANthony have left. They only come back for their funerals.

      4. We do not cater just to the Brazilian community. From my insider sources I hear that Saint Francis only has 150 people who go to mass on the weekends. We have 900 here at Saint ANthony. The Brazilian community is an important part of the parish but their mass attendance is only 150 people. At one MAss. The same as yours over 4 masses now. The other 750 people are portuguese speaking and english speaking. Again get your facts right and stop making things up.

      5. Saint ANthony’s is not a hike. Jeepers! It is only .6 miles away. A ten minute walk for average walkers. And we do have parking. You have only 5 spaces – yes 5 spaces. We can park over 100 cars. So, we are not that far. Get your geography right.

      Finally, it is ok to vent and be angry. To be upset and sad and hurt. To feel your heart being torn apart. Father Walter is trying his best to help in this situation. The people at Saint Anthony’s are praying for you and will be welcoming of you. Maybe it’s time for you to stop this and begin working with Father Walter and helping the members of your parish who also hurt to begin to adjust the changes and possible to a future closing. It seems you are a leader at the parish and a vocal spokesperson. Maybe using these gifts God has given you to build up rather than tear the community.

      • marie elena saccoccio says:

        Hello, John:

        1) You should be proud of your heritage, just as I am of mine. So sorry if somehow I gave a different impression. However, the heritages and customs (and even favorite saints) are indeed different. I ask you to consider how your parishioners would feel if they were quite suddenly told their ethnic parish would be closed and that they were to go to St. Francis, leaving behind their church and yes many of their customs and memories. In no way do I hold anyone at St. Anthony’s responsble for this debacle, not even Father Carreiro. As far I am am conderned, he was hung out to dry and made to look foolish.

        2) I know you are not POOR now. I checked online to find the St. Anthony’s financials posted on the archdiocese site. I was mistaken. However, that does not make me feel better; it makes me feel worse. When told that our “coffers” (which exceed one million dollars liquid) would be going to your parish, Father Carreiro can tell you I was delighted, since I thought you were a poor Parish. Because the wealth of our parish was off the backs of the poor Italian immigrants, I was pleased. Now I find you folks are doing quite well. Hmmmm. I would rather our wealth go to the Franciscan Missions in Central America where it is needed. Franciscans are walking with nothing after manning this parish for about 100 years. Excuse me, they get one statue which was a conditional gift from Father Graziano who served in our parish for 40 years. In the event the church ever closed, he designated the statue to be brought to the Franciscan Friary in the North End so that is all they get.

        3) Northpoint is nowhere off the ground. You know that if you are from the neighborhood. There are only a couple of hundred units there as far as residents. That will be the future, not the present. You may be thinking of the Archstone Complex with the luxury rentals. Those are occupied by many students. I do not expect them to be attending mass anytime soon, anywhere. I stick to my guns about the expected and projected expansion of residents in that area though. Will they all be RC? I doubt that but there has to be a significant percentage. Trust me I know of the expansion in the biotech area of East Cambridge since Alexandria bought up 6 city blocks from First to Sixth along Binney and Rogers. The increase in biotech density will be huge and result in the most densely placed lab space in the world. With that comes workers, and new residents. Cambridge allows Level 3 labs.. That means all kinds of research prohibited in most communities. I submit that is precisely what the Mormons saw when deciding to settle in that midst.

        4) I never used the term “cater to” when referring to Brazilians at your church. I said “ministers to.” Perhaps no difference to you but to me worlds apart. If my impression is wrong on the make up of your parish then I stand corrected.

        You think we have 150 parishioners at St. Francis?? LOL Where did you get those numbers???? There are head counts and then there are head counts. First off, head count on Sunday: Most of our seniors have been house bound. They would not be counted in “head count.” All the workers (think court house and lawyers and judges and court officers and clients) who attend during the week and on holy days of obligation and early weekday mornings are not in “head count.” As I said there are head counts and then there are head counts.

        5) I referred to the “hike” to St. Anthony’s since it is huge for elderly parishioners and a good clip for a worker running over on a lunch hour.

        St. Francis has a sizable parking lot. A good portion is rented out. I think merely 5 spaces are reserved for clergy. And, doesn’t St. Anthony’s rent out its parking lot all week to Cambridge Health Alliance?? Am I mistaken?.

        Upshot, John, this has been horribly handled and it is not my fault or yours. Neither is it the fault of Father Carreira, though he is quite naive to think this has nothing to do with the sale of St. Francis property.

        Bottom line, all three churches in East Cambridge are financially stable and self-sustained. The neighborhood is changing, but growing by leaps and bounds. An article posted on Boston.com late afternoon quotes the Archdiocese as saying that 40% of the parishes are running on a deficit. None of us are.

  2. Objective Observer says:

    From one who has been down this road and learned a great deal:

    The chancellor already may have noticed that your parish property would be of great value to a developer given the scenario you present. Your presentation of this potential development cannot hold in a canonical discussion. Sacramental activity over the past five years and proximity to other Catholic churches will run that table. So the chancellor may well be rolling his eyes at this point.

    You may not be ready to read further… your passion for your parish may prevent you at this point from embracing what I am about to write.

    Should it come to the parish closing, this sort of change (selling a parish property) is hardest on parishioners who are also abutters or near neighbors. In an ideal world, the chancellor would seek a meeting with the parish to ask that a small committee of learned parishioners like you develop a plan for the property that would make financial sense and offer consolation to the parishioners, especially the abutters and near neighbors (height restrictions, use restrictions, parking, density, etc.). Don’t hold your breath waiting for anyone from Braintree to propose this. You could propose this gameplan and lead the charge. That is likely your strongest angle of attack. And while you’re at it, insist that the assets of St Francis be allocated evenly between the two parishes where the parishioners are most likely to go, (St Anthony and Sacred Heart?) and insist that restrictions be placed on those assets so that Corp Sole cannot claim a large percentage of the cash and real estate proceeds under their IFR scheme. For them to profit from this would be a great injustice, and canonically odious.

    Mediate this realistically and you may manage to get an outcome that is far preferable to the one that is otherwise unavoidable: a long, expensive, contentious fight that embitters the faithful and divides the neighborhood.

    • marie elena saccoccio says:

      I do listen. Your voice and position are appreciated. Too premature to go down this road yet.

      Chancellor may well be rolling his eyes, but there is a different perspective that the RC Church needs here. It is not without significance that the Mormons have built their grand new Temple here in the biotech capital of the country, though they are without parishioners in the neighborhood. What is going on here in terms of reasearch and what will be tried in the future should be front and center to anyone in the hierarchy of our Church. This is an area (both geographically and religiously) that needs a “moral compass.” Sacred Heart just is not that big a church, and has no parking. St. Anthony’s is a hike and mostly ministers to the newly arrived Brazilian community (not a criticism, just an observation). Once developed, the new East Cambridge will be massive in population. St. Francis of Assisi is a good size church with rectory and attched gymnasium AND its own parking lot. We are self-sustaining. For almost a century money has flowed from this parish to the Archdiocese, not the other way around. We have never been a burden to the archdiocese.

      • bitsnbytes says:

        For what it’s worth, the Mormon church on Binney Street is just a regular church for Sunday services. Their temple is in Belmont. (The difference is that only special ceremonies such as baptisms and weddings are held at a temple.)

      • Liam says:

        So, what would be the pros and cons of merging Sacred Heart into St Francis (making St Francis a territorial, not personal, parish)?

  3. marie elena saccoccio says:

    Liam, I am not sure of the difference between territorial church and personal church. The reality is that if St. Francis closes people will go to Sacred Heart. Not sure where I will go, maybe the Mormon Church. LOL

    bitsnbytes, you know lots of stuff. The Mormon Church on Binney Street has other facilites inside. I recall seeing it promoted in the neighborhood at one of our meetings and there being a gymnasium and different activities facilities. Also, they used to have their reading room on Third Street in a wonderful old historic building. I believe that also moved into the new building. There is more there than just a Sunday service. Perhaps it is not all up and running but the facilities are wonderful and can encompass many different functions. The architecture is very respectful of the neighborhood in scale and style. Wonderful brick building that blends well with the Bullfinch building only blocks away. Of course, not as nice as St. Francis, 1838, included in the National Register of Historic Places. .

    • bitsnbytes says:

      Thanks for the information, marie elena: my intended point, perhaps not clearly stated, was that it’s a church for their regular congregational services and activities rather than a temple, and therefore not as ornately or expensively designed as the latter. Still, they probably did make quite an investment in the building.

      • marie elena saccoccio says:

        It is a wonderful building (have not seen the inside). Looks more like old Third District Court, now Juvenile Court, on Third Street. I may take a trip over to see.

  4. Here is a photo of the Mormon church online.

    http://tinyurl.com/d2goj24

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