No closings here: This Catholic diocese sees room for growth

Jason Crotty

While Worcester plans to close half its Catholic parishes in the next six years, both diocesan officials and local parishioners see Clinton as a community of growth.

“There’s absolutely no danger of this parish being closed,” said Andrew Tivnan, director of religious education at St. John the Evangelist on Union Street. “If there’s 10 parishes left in the diocese, this will be one of them, and right now there’s 124 in the diocese. As other churches close, people are going come here because of the age of the parish, because it’s in excellent physical condition, because of the beauty of the building and because the main floor seats 1,700 people.”

Although the bishop said last month the Worcester Diocese would look at church closings in some of the county’s outlying urban areas, Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, chancellor of the diocese, said Clinton isn’t one of them.

“There has been absolutely no conversation in on the diocesan level that anything more will happen than what has happened, in other words, to close any of the parishes there,” Sullivan said. “The parishes on the eastern side of the diocese of Worcester County are all growing. In the urban areas, we are closing some parishes, but in rural areas we are building other ones, kind of a shift from city to the suburbs.”

The Rev. Tomasz Borkowski is pastor of Our Lady of Jasna Gora and Our Lady of the Rosary, a combined parish formed when churches on Burditt Hill and the Acre merged in 2006. Borkowski said the parish has held steady since then.

“It has not decreased, but it has not increased sufficiently to allow for the ministries we are trying to do,” he said. “You like to see an annual increase in the parish, with expenses going up.”

Evaluating parishes

Sullivan said the diocese looked at several criteria to determine the vibrancy of a parish.

“One of the strongest things is sacramental life,” he said: “What is the vitality of the number of baptisms, first communications, confirmations and what is the size of the religious education programs. Are those growing or shrinking?”

Sullivan said a parish’s significance to specific ethnic groups could also influence its status, as can the average age of its parishioners. 

“Parishes that simply hold funerals are a sign of the times,” said Sullivan, adding that parishes with aging populations, without religious education programs and younger families are more likely to be closed.

Sullivan said the availability of priests also plays a part in the process, along with financial sustainability, especially when similar parishes of close location are presented with similar problems.

Adding to the call for streamlining is the fact that Catholics typically give about 1 percent of their annual income to their parish, Sulllivan said, while Protestants give about 2 percent. He said most parishes need a minimum of several hundred families to stay afloat.