Skip to comments.The faithful rattled by planned closing of three Catholic churches in Bridgeport
Posted on 10/09/2011 1:19:05 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
BRIDGEPORT -- From Boston to Chicago, from Vermont to Maryland, scores of Catholic churches are closing as bishops juggle the needs of the faithful with the harsh realities of empty pews and dwindling contributions.
That reality hit home this month with the announcement that three Roman Catholic churches in Bridgeport -- out of a total of 16 in the city -- will all but close by mid-January: St. Raphael's, Holy Rosary and St. Ambrose. The announcement was a bitter pill to swallow for those who have gone to the three churches for decades.
"I think we're getting a raw deal," said Mike Rodriguez, outside of Mass last Sunday at St. Ambrose. He has been attending Mass there for nearly 20 years. "They could have given us more time. We can make it work. The people here are devastated."
He's not alone. Many parishioners from the churches affected said they were upset by the announcement.
St. Ambrose, Holy Rosary and St. Raphael will have to open at least once a month to preserve their tax-exempt status, church officials said. They will be open for funerals, weddings and the like, but that was little comfort for some congregants.
"I just feel it's pure greed," said Pat Rinko after Mass at St. Ambrose. "How can you just take people's churches away? Why would they send me to a church in Stratford? Nobody understands why."
The scene was similar outside of Holy Rosary on the city's East Side, a block from Washington Park.
"I've been coming here forever -- since I was a little girl," said Jean Daniels.
Daniels still attends Holy Rosary even though she has lived in Trumbull for years.
"When my parents first came here, it was a wooden church," she said. "They were married here. Nobody here is happy anymore."
Holy Rosary parishioners have formed a committee and consulted a lawyer to determine if any action can be taken to prevent the closing of their church, according to church members.
Parishioner Antoinette Piantedosi said closing St. Raphael, where she has been attending since the 1940s, "doesn't make any sense." She said the 12:30 Mass in Spanish is packed, and there are families with small children, who are the future of the church.
Bridgeport diocesan officials didn't release attendance figures, but they did say that baptism numbers have plummeted. At Holy Rosary, only 18 babies were baptized over the last three years; in the 1960s, that number would have been in the triple digits.
"It's always hurtful to the people it's happening to, but these closures in Bridgeport are certainly more limited than it might have been," said Paul Lakeland, professor of religious studies at Fairfield University. "Catholics don't go to church every week like they used to. Today we're seeing about 25 percent of Catholics go to church at least once a week, quite a significant drop-off from what it was 50 years ago."
It was a different picture back in the 1960s.
"Back then, every Mass was packed," said Charles Brilvitch, the city's former historian and a lifelong city resident. "You'd walk into church and it was standing-room only."
BRIDGEPORT ISN'T ALONE
Bridgeport might consider itself lucky that only three churches are closing for Mass. In Cleveland, for example, 50 Roman Catholic churches have been shuttered or combined in the last five years, and one has been razed; others may be torn down, too. At its peak, Cleveland had 224 parishes; only 174 remain today. The story is the same in many cities of the Northeast and the Midwest's Rust Belt. In July, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis said it will close four of the 14 churches in Terre Haute by the end of 2012.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore has closed seven churches since 2000. In North Pownal, Vt., Our Lady of Lourdes celebrated its last Mass on Oct. 1.
In Springfield, Mass., parishioners have been staging a sit-in protest after the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., announced it plans to close the Mater Dolorosa Church in Holyoke. More Roman Catholic churches there are set to close. Ten churches in the western part of Massachusetts were shuttered on Jan. 1.
Closer to home, the Diocese of Norwich has begun an eight-month study on closing some of its shoreline parishes between East Lyme and the Rhode Island line. And it's expected that officials in the Bridgeport diocese will soon begin looking hard at other poorly-attended Catholic churches in Fairfield County.
DODGING THE AX
Surprisingly to some, one church that escaped the padlock was Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church. It towers over the East Side and arguably has the most beautiful and ornate interior of any church in the city. It opened in 1907 as a Slovak church; today, it's the last one in the city that offers a Latin Mass.
Much of the neighborhood it once served no longer exists. The Father Panik Village housing project across the street was cleared away in the early 1990s. And a few blocks to the south, scores of homes and apartments were leveled for the long-awaited Steelpointe Harbor project that city officials maintain will eventually be built.
"Back in the 1950s and '60s, it was a different city," said Msgr. Jerald A. Doyle of the Diocese of Bridgeport. "Sts. Cyril & Methodius is a big church with a very small congregation, but Msgr. (Joseph) Pekar is doing a great job there. It's the only place in the city that has the Latin Mass. So as long as he's doing that, we're able to sustain it."
That Latin Mass, Sundays at 10:15 a.m., is attracting the faithful from the suburbs, church officials say, even though the church is in one of the most beleaguered parts of Bridgeport.
Along with the church closings, there are other changes as well. St. Augustine Cathedral, the mother church of the Bridgeport diocese on Washington Avenue, is being merged with St. Patrick, about a mile away on North Avenue. Both will remain open, but staffs will be consolidated where possible. Both will still have Mass on Sundays and other days of the week.
"The goal is to be more efficient and build things up," said Brian Wallace, the spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport. "St. Patrick's is a beautiful church that was restored recently. Now, when the bishop has a diocesan-wide liturgy and it's packed with people from all over Fairfield County, it'll work really well to give the people from the St. Augustine's Cathedral the option of having Mass there instead."
The union of St. Augustine and St. Patrick will be called the Cathedral Parish under the realignment.
Also merging will be two North End churches, Our Lady of Good Council and St. Andrew. Our Lady of Good Council will remain open, and it will retain its name, but it will be a chapel of St. Andrew's.
"The bishop would like to see people pull together and work out some of these details themselves," Wallace said. "We have to understand that Bishop (William E.) Lori inherited an infrastructure that's about a hundred years old. Now it's the 21st century."
Doyle, who was reared in Bridgeport, notes it's not just the Catholic churches that have empty pews.
"Just about all of the mainline churches are struggling in the city," he said. "In the 1950s, factories like GE and Remington employed thousands. Now, that's all gone."
As with many Catholic churches in the city, Holy Rosary Church, in the city's East End, was established in the early 20th century. The present church was completed in 1932; it was first established in 1903 in what was then the Diocese of Hartford. Through much of its history, Italian-Americans made up most of the congregation, although this is no longer the case. It was formerly known as the "Holy Rosary Italian Catholic Church," according to records.
The Diocese of Bridgeport was established in 1953, the year the Holy Rosary celebrated its 50th anniversary. The attached Holy Rosary School, established in 1961, will remain open, as will the schools attached to St. Ambrose and St. Raphael.
St. Ambrose Church, established in 1928 in the Mill Hill district in the city's upper East End, is sometimes called the "Church on the Hill." It was dedicated on April 14, 1940. Its parish school, which will remain open, was dedicated in 1951. It was named after St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan who lived 340 to 397.
St. Raphael was dedicated on Dec. 12, 1926, but it was almost entirely rebuilt in 1953, and there was a major renovation about a decade ago. It was named after Raphael, who in the Christian faith is one of the seven Archangels who stand before the throne of the Lord.
Those who now attend both Holy Rosary and St. Raphael will be asked to attend Mass at the Shrine of St. Margaret on Park Avenue.
NOT THE FIRST TO CLOSE
The last Roman Catholic church in Bridgeport to close was St. John Nepomucene on the East Side, on the corner of Brooks and Jane streets. It closed in November 1991, and its dwindling parish was merged with Holy Name in Stratford. It's still owned by the diocese, but it's now operated by the Victory Outreach Church. In return, Victory Outreach is taking care of the building, according to its pastor, Patrick Robbers.
In February 1991, the diocese shuttered St. Anthony on Colorado Avenue in the West End. That parish was merged with St. Peter's, a few blocks up the street, and the small, wooden church just south of State Street was razed.
The closing of St. Anthony was not met with much resistance. After its final Mass, its icons were marched up Colorado Avenue to St. Peter's in what could be described as a celebration.
FINANCING THE FAITH
Many faith communities, including some Catholic parishes, are thriving. But many are not. Wether its a diocese with hundreds of parishes or a storefront church next door to a bodega, those in charge are painfully aware of the fact that income largely comes from voluntary donations. Churches can't take their flocks to court for not contributing.
"This is a problem that many, many Christian denominations have faced," said Brian Bodt, president of the Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches.
"In my own faith, Methodist, we used to have at least six churches in Bridgeport in 1969 and today we have two. I know that Bishop Lori was giving it a lot of thought and study," Bodt said. "It's always extremely hard for the people who go to a church that has to close."
For local members who have tied their identities to a particular church for decades, the news of its impending demise hits hard.
"When I first came here 15 years ago -- I had been away from church for awhile -- the sun was shining in on the alter and there were a couple sparrows that had somehow gotten inside that were flying around the altar -- it was almost magical," said Pat Rinko last Sunday outside of St. Ambrose, tears welling up in her eyes. "When Father Dennis hugged me, well, that did it for me. It's like a family here -- the happy times, the sad times, everyone is here for you."
I have probably said this before.
The reason i stopped watching 60 minutes is that I tended to be overwhelmed with righteous anger when I did.
And one day I realized that I’m not righteous enough to have this much righteous anger.
And you as well, netmilsmom!
I don’t watch stuff related to OThuga similarly.
“I would love if it worked out that we could go waste money at Starbucks together.”
I’ve been to Bodo’s Bagels a few times...But yeah that would rule.
Separate from... Part church... Insulate against?
God bless you.
In other countries they wait months to see a priest or walk miles to go to Mass.
This is a spiritual problem.
Pray, tithe, volunteer.
It was written that this would happen.
Maybe similar things should be done with churches that have essentially lost their congregations.
Other people live in other places and different times. If all that is needed is in effect, an administrative solution, so that the elderly and infirm, many of whom cannot travel great distances, can still find spiritual solace and absolution, why deny it to them?
The church can and should be flexible when it does not infringe on its doctrines, beliefs or sacred practices.
In these places there are not enough congregants to maintain full churches, but this does not require abandonment.
What does your comment have to do with the posters’ re: education and the faith?
As far as meeting in houses, you will be... and it will not be in the best of conditions. Try looking around the globe where our brothers and sisters are getting raped, mutilated, killed, exiled and in some places, put into slavery. Get on your knees and thank God you can worship in freedom.
Yeah let’s meet in homes, set up homeschooling, adoption agencies, hospitals, soup kitchens there. When a kids thinking of abortion, shooting someone or slapped their mother, maybe they’ll see your house on the way and want to sit and spend time with the Lord.
How the Lord must be frustrated with us. Look at all who were and are still martyred.
As for here and worldwide, all those hospitals, orphanages, missions, soup kitchens/pantries and senior centers/meals on wheels, etc. don't pay for themselves either... bad economy, more needy.
Where did you get that US Vatican number and do you know what's done with it? Please send me both links.
So are you Korah, Dathan, or Abiram?
He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Not in a Mercedes.
How about you read post 25, then get back to me. Or not.
Lay Dominicans, wonderful. I will pray for you.
It reminded me of a post on a Dominican blog:
This morning an Air Force pilot pointed out that flying close to the deck in Afganistan and Iraq, you can always tell what kind of animals you are coming up on. A flock of goats scatters in every direction in response to the noise of the aircraft, whereas the sheep all run to the shepherd; so before you are even close, you know what kind of animals the flock is made of.
That said, this seems like one occasion to make a shameless plug. The scripture doesn’t make mention of the assistant that the shepherd has, the dog. Now the dogs’ job is not just to herd the sheep, but to bark when the wolf comes, and to defend the sheep and the shepherd, even at the cost of their own lives. It is worth noting in this context that the dog has always been associated with St. Dominic, appearing in art at his side, and the word “Dominicans” being derived from Domini canus - God’s dogs.
I took classes at St. Vincent Ferrer in NYC some years back. It’s an amazing Dominican church.
You can go back and see the great Rood suspended over the altar.
Pray for me. I love the spirituality of the Dominicans, yet still feel drawn to the Carmelites as third order.
BTW, I posted to you and as I read through the thread saw your apology.
Obviously, you’re not the only one who doesn[t think before you post. LOL
God bless you and pray for me.
Obviously, I need to read the whole thing. I only came across excerpts (which is never good). I have to find out online, will post when I do.
I ran sheep for more than a decade and had two guardian dogs, Agnes and Raquel, Great Pyrenees, the best dogs I have ever known. If I had half the nobility of Agnes I would be emperor already.
I also had a few goats,whom I dearly loved. Dairy animals can be special. But docile they ain’t.
I spent several days at the priory at St. Vincent’s two Aprils ago. That is some gorgeous church! But what touched me the most was that when we came into the friars’ chapel for matins and lauds there were always a few people, almost invisible in the church on the other side of the screen, who prayed the morning offices with us — the unsung saints and pilgrims who praise the Lord anonymously and alone and carry His grace secretly into the world.
Blessed Juana of Asa is said to have had a dream during her pregnancy that (in the most elaborate version) a black and white dog carried a torch in his mouth and set the world on fire. But Dominic was named after another saint who assured Juana that she would become pregnant and bear a great child. I think the “Lord’s Dogs” was just a perceived pun more than a derivation, and the English friars have a website called, I think, “Godz Dogs” — which, barring the phonetic ‘z’, is “Domini-canes”.
As long as I am permitted to wag my tail, I will be happy to bark for the Lord. Thanks for your prayers.If I am preserved from disgracing the order, I will be content.
In the middle ages they built cathedrals. Now we have (or did until recently) a space program.
(Gold doesn't need polishing. Silver needs polishing. I need scrubbing -- Brillo!)
Man's delight. Hmm. I wouldn't scorn that too readily. It's the whole "hospital for sinners" v."society of the elect" conflict. And there are echoes of the problem in the first part of Plato's Republic.
IF we were a society of deeply pious people, constantly aware of the presence of God in our lives, we probably still would need large buildings so that we could respond to needs of our brethren when there were calamities. Hangars and warehouses and garages so that we could drive to Katrina, Biafra, Bangla Desh, or Port au Prince and bring food and clothing and medicine -- and Bibles. Would it be so wrong for them to be beautiful buildings?
Is there no room for art? It seems one important thing about man is that he makes as well as perceives beauty, and it matters that among the earliest artifacts are objects of no utility (except possibly as idols) but of beauty only.
And IF we are creatures made to manifest beauty, is it intrinsically wrong to do so in order to assist in the praise of God? When David sings, "O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness," does he mean ONLY an unearthly, uncreated beauty? Shall we, must we not have lovely songs, textiles to die for (of the things I have woven I am most grateful for an altar cloth I gave to a church), beautiful windows and paintings? If man will make buildings of breathtaking beauty (and it seems he will), may he not make them in the praise and abodah (service) of God?
SURE, once made, all these things can be tempting and distracting. But I think even in store-front churches people are tempted and distracted by something, while I know that God spoke to me early through beauty more than through sermons and discourses and coloring and other Sunday School activities.
I cannot remember when my heart was not restless, but it was the delight and beauty in my 'growing-up' church that not only stirred the restlessness up but prompted hope that there might be a place (or a Person) where my heart would find rest.
And, I suggest, there is as much a temptation to spiritual pride in conscious austerity as in an abundance of beautiful things. Our enemy is wily and can use the stained indoor/outdoor carpeting of a humble chapel as well as the luxurious tapestries of a cathedral to induce and ensnare us into thinking more of our piety than of God's grace.
And let's also think of the craftsmen and artists? They will do their craft and make their art whether there are churches or not. But is it bad for them to sew or compose or carve or erect to the greater glory of God (as well as their commission)? Must we reduce someone who could write a beautiful Gloria to the composition of advertising jingles for fear that beauty would distract him or us?
Donne's love poems are beautiful and witty. His sacred poems(and he was not a Catholic)are astonishing, as are those of George Herbert. And space does not permit to give Dante the praise he is due.
There is good in the store-front chapel, or in the aching austerity of a Trappist monastery chapel. And there is good in the lush beauty of, say, St. Vincent Ferrer's church in Manhattan, to which AliVeritas has posted a link. I'm glad that that architect found a worthy task for his art.
I agree with Plato that man will have his beautiful things. And if that is so, then let him have them in the service and praise of God.
If real estate agents, homeowners and landlords could legally advertise that their buildings for rent / sale are near churches, I bet you'd get a bit of an uptick in regulars, especially within walking distance. Maybe even enough to matter.
If we could loosen those laws up, or maybe file a well-argued lawsuit, realtors would help get people into pews. A few more people in each parish would naturally move closer to church or the parish school, even within walking distance. The church and school would be less likely to close, and more likely to thrive.