OP ED ( written in Mid September )
MOUNT CARMEL PRESERVATION SOCIETY working to fix the Church and Save the Parish on Mulberry Street
In a day and age where crime and drug abuse is nearly epidemic in our city the last thing we need is to intentionally allow a parish community to be destroyed let alone a parish community that also is a community anchor in one of Worcester’s most thriving neighborhoods.
The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Preservation Society is a collective of over 100 Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parishioners has been fighting the battle to preserve their church and save their parish on Mulberry Street since the Monsignor/Pastor announced abruptly that the Church will be closed then changed the locks and changed the door within the next two days of his announcement. His announcement came with a declaration that the beautiful historic church 1000 year old church will be demolished as soon as possible. He stated that the City inspectors ordered the church to be closed. Parishioners soon found what the City did ask is for the Church to be repaired and made safe. They estimated that would cost to be about $120,000.
Parishioners rallied and formed the Mount Carmel Preservation Society (MPS herein)with intent to establish an autonomous non-profit to ensure funds raised will go into fixing the church and not elsewhere in the Diocese. The Society along with over 9000 signed petitioners have been asking the Bishop McManus and Monsignor to “fix the church and save the parish” on Mulberry Street in Worcester, MA.
We are faithful members of a community that was founded 110 years ago, in the City of Worcester. Our Church is one of the most active and generous parishes. Last year we ranked fifth in the diocese for donations. This year we rank 8th out of 17 parishes in donations to the Bishops Fund ,even though our Church has been closed, and most parishioners are not attending Our Lady of Loreto. In only a few months this grassroots parish effort raised about $ 89,000 in pledges and over $8,000in cash. MPS is now in the completion stages of developing a Sustainability Plan that will address future maintenance cost for the Church and Recreation Center. This money does not include funds raised by the parish driven Italian Festival or other Knights of Columbus or CYC activities or weekly collections. Other MPS and Parish wide fund raisers are ongoing or in the making both online and throughout our area. Does this sound like a “dead parish”? Mount Carmel has less debt than the Church the Monsignor and the Bishop wanted it to merge with. Does that make sense?
It is not our intention to be disrespectful to those involved in the closing, but the complete story has not been told. We believe our Church was closed against the will of the majority of parishioners. We were told by the Monsignor that the City ordered it to close and it was to be demolished. The Church was never declared condemned and the City’s building inspectors asked that certain facade work be done to make the building safe and ready to be occupied again.
As our parishioners see it, there was little attempt to sincerely pool parish talent together to address the building’s needs and the City’s request. The old way of doing fund-raising which asked for more from parishioners, and failed before, did show increases but not enough according to the Monsignor. Any attempts and suggested solutions made by our parishioners fell on “deaf ears” and were promptly dismissed or not followed through.
Is it right and just to close a parish and a community of faith, one of high historical significance to the Italian Community and to Worcester’s identity ? Is it, in a climate or rapidly decaying neighborhoods, right and just to destroy a community that is vibrant and committed to faith, cultural preservation and community building? So many Catholics have left the church, due to the abuse scandal, the closing of their ethnic communities and other factors influenced by a secular society. Many more will leave with this closing. The Church at large cannot survive with the breaking up of committed communities, tied by ethnic heritage. The Church and religion are essential to provide morality to their communities. In studies done on raising a child, the two most important factors in raising a child are family and religion. Nothing can replace the quality of community or neighborhood or refill the hole left if Mount Carmel Church is gone.
We also feel that Canon Law has not been followed. Our Canonical appeal has been accepted for review at Vatican City. We were not given the opportunity to organize and pursue other options but, instead, the Church administrators used the same fund-raising techniques that were bound to fail and placed the blame on a dwindling parish base. There was never a formal vote by the finance committee or the parish council of Our Lady of Mt Carmel to merge with Our Lady of Loreto or to close the Church. These committees were never formally disbanded. According to parishioners I spoke with, the Monsignor rebuilt these committees and handpicked members from Our Lady of Loreto and Our Lady of Mt Carmel , who supported his wishes to close and demolish the Church and moved forward toward merging Loreto and Mount Carmel. All churches are getting older and many are crumbling and cost to repair. If the Church continues to expect the parishioners to pay there will soon be no churches left in the poorer neighborhoods where they may be most needed. It’s time to try new methods to raise funds to sustain all our churches.
The question keeps coming up, why is the Dioceses appear to stand against our efforts to raise funds and reopen the Church? Why is it so eager to effectively kill a thriving parish that sites on what might be one of it’s most valuable plots of land? It raises many questions. We want disclosure.
We noted that many revenue raising opportunities have been squandered due to what appears to us to be poor asset and operational management. This has been draining the parish finances also.
When the committee met with the Bishop on May 27, 2016, we presented numerous new options for consideration to raise funds including a sustainability plan to maintain the Church into the future. Our suggestions were met with a resounding “NO”
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has a history that is an essential part of the history of the City of Worcester. It was the foundation of the Italian immigrant population and Shrewsbury St.,and a meeting place for all cultures and organizations in the city. Its founders and parishioners were among the wealthiest and successful people in the city. Look at the names on plaques in the Church and recreation center of the donors. Many of the ancestors of these people still are active members. Many others who could not give large donations donated time,skills and their expertise in many areas. We are a Family. The parish has opened its doors to all cultures, and creeds. The Hispanic population under Rev. Michael Bafaro was welcomed and helped to integrate into the city.
Festivals and cultural events and organizations including: Irish, Indian, Italian festival, art exhibits, Italian singers, writers and artists , famous speakers, fashion shows banquets Knights of Columbus, Sons of Italy,funerals, mercy dinners, banquets, etc. ,were and continue to be held on these historic grounds.
It has also served the city when the need arose. When the city experienced the horrors of the Cold Storage Warehouse Fire, Mount Carmel Recreation Center, (through the generosity of former Bishop Riley and Rev Michael Bafaro, and the parishioners), opened its doors and was a command center for all operations during this tragedy. Food was provided and volunteers were brought in to serve those involved . This went on for an extended period of time. It also hosted the the teachers union and the city during contract negations for many years. This Church has been a haven for poor families in the city by having a food pantry, funds and donations at Christmas and Thanksgiving, special fundraisers for various causes, a free preschool, and helping the poor, regardless of faith ,when in need. It also hosts a Golden Years Club at the Center every Tuesday.
Why, when we have such an active and committed group of people, are we being closed? It is our feeling that the diocese did not want us to organize or come together to find solutions. We feel that the land we are part of and have supported and nurtured for 110 years is the answer. Is money more important to the diocese than the people ? This is not what the Catholic Church teaches.
We ask for the support and cooperation of the people, of the City of Worcester, to realize the necessity of preserving and protecting this historic site and our community.
In May, 2016,The City’s Historical commission ordered the Diocese to begin work to make the Church safe and work with our Mount Carmel Preservation Society. To date ( Sept 21,2016) there is finally a crane in front of the Church. Hopefully to begin the make safe work.
This is good news because so far for the MPS every step of the way in our effort to fund raise we faced road blocks. Request to have mass, on campus,temporarily, until the Church make safe work is completed, in the Parish Recreation Center was denied by the Monsignor. That would have helped the parish raise substantially more at each weekly Mass. When we asked to access the parish mailing list or place a paragraph in the weekly bulletin in order to raise funds and pull resources together in our attempt to save the Church and parish, the Pastor’s answer was NO. When we asked if we paid for a flier to be inserted into the bulletin to reach out to fellow parishioners,the Monsignor said NO. When asked if we purchased a banner to display on the church , the Pastors answer was NO.
When the Monsignor was asked to accept Preservation Worcester’s honored nomination of our church into the second round National Register of most endangered historic sights, his answer was NO, ” I am not in favor of that.”
The MPS promised to raise the funds needed to alleviate the burden of cost to the Diocese to “make the Church safe” per order of the City. The amount the City told us was $120,000. The Monsignor asked us for a sustainability plan that will maintain the Church and address future building issues (which we have already nearly completed) The Monsignor challenged us to also find an Architectural firm or building engineer that will inspect the building to assure it is safe and or determine other immediate building needs.
The Parishioners have met that challenge. The Mount Carmel Preservation Society is very close to goals with a reported $ 89,000 in pledges, and about 8,000 in cash, the Society’s sustainability plan is near completed and we have a Certified Architectural firm on standby.
Now is time for the Diocese to do it’s part. Fix the Church and Save the Parish on Mulberry Street.
Respectfully submitted by the Mount Carmel Preservation Society