More parish closing complaining

More parish closing complaining

Here’s yet another op-ed in the Boston Globe criticizing the Archdiocese of Boston for closing parishes. Ironically, the photo used to illustrate the story is of the closing parish’s altar in 1949, in all its glory. That’s probably about when this inner-city parish was last full of families. That’s because this is Immaculate Conception Church in Boston’s South End, also known as the Jesuit Urban Center, which is a gay-magnet church and which was “wreck-ovated” not long ago in a disaster of modernism.

Unfortunately, the perspective in this column, like in too many other defenses of closing urban parishes, is not that of parish life and worship, but of cultural and architectural continuity.

With the imminent closing and sale of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the South End comes yet another stage in the slow and agonizing cultural suicide of the Catholic Church in Boston. Each church closing means an irreparable loss of history, continuity, and culture, whether it be the closing of a feisty and proud ethnic parish, like the South End’s Holy Trinity, the closing of beloved neighborhood churches, often of some architectural distinction, such as Blessed Sacrament in Jamaica Plain, or the closing of a rare and important center of high culture and dedicated urban ministry like the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

The whole column lists the artistic and architectural significance of the church, the fact that it used to be “fashionable and elegant” with guest preachers and famous musicians. We are told of the former rector who ensured that there were enough funds to maintain the church. It’s not until halfway through the column that we hear of any type of service provided by the parish in the past. There’s certainly nothing about worship and community life.

The secret to keep your parish from closing

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  • You are probably write that the paper just doesn’t get it, but at the same time they do make a valid point.  Culture is something worthy perserving, since it is the by-product of the cult of worship and a part of our tradition.  Here in Rome there are tons of ancient Churches that are not viable by your criteria, but despite the fact that so many of the Churches in old Rome are without communities most of them must remain open if only for their cultural heritage and for the occasional tourist student, or workman would wanders in in search for a quite place to pray.  The Churches of Boston are obviously not of the same historic import as those of Rome, however, they do make up a part of the cultural patrimony of the Archdiocese, which to the degree possible, should be maintained.  There may be no local community to worship at a Church like Holy Trinity, but insofar as it is an excellent example of how the Cult created culture it should be maintained so as to inspire future generations.

    I am not advocating that any particular church staying open (although I do have a special place in my heart for Holy Trinity) but would only like to point out that tradition is more than just the Deposit of Faith, but includes things like old beautiful Churches long since out of use.

  • Actually, the Immaculate was on borrowed time the moment the Jesuits moved BC High out of there in the post-war period, since Catholics were already leaving the South End and Roxbury at that time (who here remembers when Roxbury was an Irish neighborhood?). Fr Gilday kept the place running and did incredible ministry. When he died, the Province tried to sell off the place in the mid-1980s, and the wreckovation controversy begat a temporary compromise that focused on ministry to the caregivers and caregiven in the 2 hospitals across the street. This coincided with the time when City Hospital became the nerve center of the area’s treatment of AIDS patients and the Immaculate ended up getting involved with that population (not just gay men but other affected populations – there were, IIRC – also people from other urban demographic groups represented in the disease’s profile) but also with cancer victims and other things like that. That ministry led to funerals, and then some of those people who had been formerly unchurched kept coming back, and the thing built on itself for a while. But that itself was many years ago now.

    The Province’s own attitudes about the building and the Province’s stewardship responsibilities to it and the community there, seemed to have waxed and waned with successive provincials. The current provincial moved its HQ and all the Jesuits out of residence there a couple of years ago, and built a new HQ in Watertown for $$$. It seems the province has decided to retrench almost entirely to its academic safe-havens (BC-Weston, Holy Cross & Fairfield U). The New England province has been notorious for a long time for being among the worst-managed provinces in terms of finances, and there are very unpleasant consequences from that.

    I just think that the phenomenon was a little more complex and deserves being understood better.

  • RFloyd,

    I don’t think Rome is really a fair comparison. Churches in Rome are pilgrimage sites as well as parishes serving local communiites. Rome is not only a historical city, it is uniquely the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. No other city has or can have the same significance because Rome is the cultural patrimony for all Catholics around the world. Boston’s churches, while important parts of a local patrimony, will never have a universal role as those in Rome.

    The big question for me is exactly the one you touch upon: “to the degree possible.” It seems like the major disagreement is discerning what is that feasibility. I don’t think anyone thinks we shouldn’t try to preserve these churches, or that their loss isn’t a terrible loss not only to the parishioners; but to the whole archdiocese.

    But in a war when resources are limited and you can’t save everyone, sometimes you have to do triage. Triage is awful, brutal; but sometimes a necessity. Is there any doubt that the Church in Boston is in crisis, is bleeding heavily from multiple wounds?

    A surgeon knows that sometimes he must sacrifice a hand or a foot in order to save a life. And that may be a cruel sacrifice if the patient is a concert pianist or a world-class athlete. We may mourn the necessity, but still realize it is a neccesity.(Sorry for mixing so many metaphors.)


    Thanks for the extra context. Would it have been so hard for the Globe to highlight that the parish’s closing is the responsibility of the Jesuits, not the diocese?

  • Melanie

    The column was not by anyone affiliated with the Globe, but by a former Immaculate congregant. Since much of his ires was harshly directed at the Jesuits (and more vaguely placed in the context of unrelated but contemporary closings of inner city churches by the Archdiocese), I think he could plead innocent to that charge.