May 6, 2011
May 6, 2011
Dear friends in Christ,
For the past several years, the Pastoral Planning process has been occurring in the Town of Southbridge. At different stages, parishes reviewed their own mission and activities, a process that resulted in the merged parish of Notre Dame of the Sacred Heart. Since January 2011, a town wide discussion with representatives of all three parishes ensued with a mandate to come to a better vision for the Catholic community as one parish serving the needs of today and the near future.
No one knows better than you, the residents of Southbridge, that times have changed. Economic changes bring with them changes in our neighborhoods. As one immigrant population moves on, another takes its place. The changes in the social fabric of our communities demand changes in our parishes to meet new needs, new challenges, and most especially, new opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In looking forward, we must first look back and recognize the enormous accomplishments of our parents and grandparents. They made many sacrifices to build the magnificent churches which have served the Catholic faithful of Southbridge so well. Moreover, they also gave of their time and talent to educate the newcomer, serve the poor and needy, and build a strong community of faith which was a beacon of hope for many generations. It is only because we stand on their shoulders that we can look ahead with a new vision for the pastoral life of the Catholic community in Southbridge.
In March, when I announced that Sacred Heart of Jesus Church would be closed, I wrote to the parishioners of Notre Dame of the Sacred Heart Parish that “the process of having to choose one beloved church over another can be hurtful in a parish.” Likewise, I have now made decisions for the whole Catholic community of Southbridge so that the process not become divisive. Given the input I have received from the pastoral planning process, I want to share with you those decisions.
Beginning in July 2011, there will be one new, territorial parish established for the Town of Southbridge. I have decided to appoint Father Peter Joyce as pastor who will be assiste d by a staff that will meet the pastoral needs of its diverse parishioners. The new parish will have two worship sites, Notre Dame Church where the Lord’s Day Masses will be normally celebrated and St. Mary Church. St. Hedwig Church will be designated as a “chapel of convenience.” All three church buildings will keep their own names as demanded by Church law.
During a transition process of May and June, I have asked the members of the former planning team to focus on three specific issues: how this new parish will welcome all the Catholics in the area, regardless of cultural or economic background; how it can best utilize these various facilities to support the diverse faith practices of its members and become an even stronger community of faith; and for the transition team to prepare a list of three names for my consideration in deciding upon a new name for the parish.
Your pastors, parish representatives, and members of the Diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee will work together in the coming weeks so that, to the best of their ability, this transition will be pastorally sensitive to the grieving process that comes with the closing of parishes. We must work to help each other in the weeks and months ahead.
Let us recall today’s Gospel reading to give us courage and strength to face this new pastoral configuration as one faith community. Like those first disciples on the road to Emmaus, we seek the reassurance that Christ has not left us in this time of transition. Rather, he remains with us in our journey of faith and will surely be recognized as we come together for the breaking of the bread at Mass.
With every prayerful best wish, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. McManus, S.T.D.
Bishop of Worcester