The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 28, 2004


Concord Catholic churches to merge; St. Irene remains intact

The letter from the Archbishop, addressed to Reverend John Murray, Pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Concord, arrived by FedEx on Tuesday. "I am writing to inform you that I have decided that St. Bernard Parish will close, as will Our Lady Help of Christians Parish, and a new parish will be formed on the site of the present St. Bernard property ... The effective date of the suppressions and the establishment of a new parish will be announced in mid-June." A similar letter was delivered to Reverend Austin Fleming, Pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in West Concord.

St. Irene, young and growing

The two Concord parishes were among the 65 announced church closings in a massive downsizing and reorganization of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Happily not on the list was Carlisle's St. Irene Parish, on East Street. Pastor Thomas Donohoe said he was surprised by the Concord closings, and believes St. Irene was untouched as it is the only Catholic church in Carlisle. The parish serves both Carlisle and Billerica, but also has a sizeable membership from Westford, Chelmsford and other surrounding towns. "[Catholics] today go to church where they want to go," says Carlisle resident Ed Sonn, chair of the St. Irene Finance Council.

The parish has doubled its membership since Father Donohoe arrived in 1988, growing from approximately 400 families to 800 today. Some of the growth is due to the new church building, says the pastor, and some due to population growth in Carlisle and Billerica. It is a young parish, reflected in the roughly 60 baptisms and only five funerals in the past year.

Uncertainty in Concord

Who will lead the new Concord parish? "We don't know," says Father Murray. "Both pastors could be transferred, or one might stay."

In West Concord, parishioner and member of Our Lady's Pastoral Council, Jane Audrey-Neuhauser, desperately hopes that Father Fleming will stay. "One-quarter to one-third [of parishioners] are from outside parish boundaries," she says. "We are people who are desperately trying to stay in the [Catholic] Church and have found a pocket of decency here." She attributes everything to Father Fleming. "He is very firm in matters of faith," says Audrey-Neuhauser, "but welcomes gays and lesbians into the chuch, as well as discussion of 'progressive' ideas, such as a married or female clergy." As an example, she offers, Father Fleming planned to attend the marriage of parishioners (and Carlisle residents) Claire Wilcox and Joan Rosazza yesterday at the Concord Town Hall, before Justice of the Peace Anita Tekle. (See Mosquito, May 21 issue.)

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito