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Waterbury Catholics appealing parish consolidations

WATERBURY -- Catholics across Connecticut are preparing for a big round of changes starting June 29th when a major consolidation of parishes goes into effect.

The consolidation plan will take 212 parishes and reduce them to 127 and cause 26 church buildings statewide to close, meaning Mass will no longer be celebrated there.

In Waterbury, one of the communities facing the biggest changes, six parishes will be rolled into one.  Churchgoers in the newly formed All Saints parish will be asked to attend mass at either Our Lady of Lorde or at the Shrine of Saint Anne.

The consolidation will also mean four churches will close; St. Lucy, St. Stanislaus, Sacred Heart, and St. Margaret.

“That parish will in the months and years to come will discern which buildings they need which buildings they can find another use for,” Father Christopher Ford, Episcopal Vicar for the Waterbury Vicariate, said.

The parishioners of St. Margaret, have since filed an appeal to fight the plan to consolidate.  FOX61 received the following statement from the Archdiocese on the matter:

“Some Waterbury parishioners have hired a canon lawyer to look into reversing the relegation of the St. Margaret of Scotland Church building in Waterbury. However, to overturn this decision, church authorities would have to find fault with the process used to reach the decision, and there would have to be real harm intended. In this case, there are many opportunities for the faithful to celebrate Mass and receive the sacraments in Waterbury. Some will argue that the decision to close the church causes them emotional distress, but this is a subjective reaction to the change. The Archdiocese of Hartford has followed canonical guidelines and has ensured that parishioners in this region will be given ample opportunity to practice their faith.  The Archdiocese is pleased that the majority of parishioners are excited to be part of the newly-formed parish of:  ‘All Saints’ to be located at the St. Anne Shrine Church and Our Lady of Lourdes Church, effective June 29th.” - Rev. James Shanley, Vicar of Pastoral Planning.

The parish will need to come up with a recommendation for what will become of the unused churches and need the approval of the dioceses to move forward with any decision as to how to use them moving forward.  According to the Archdiocese the buildings can be used for things like youth centers, evangelization centers, senior housing, or may be sold.

“The building must be sold for a use that is in some way in accord with the teaching with the Catholic church, we’re not going to sell churches to be turned into bars or book stores or casinos or something like that,” Ft. James Shanley, Vicar of Pastoral Planning, said.

Some of those buildings were the home churches for communities of Italian or Polish immigrants back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Many were local factory workers at the time, but as the factories wen out of operation, the U.S. entered the post-industrial period, and that many changes for the city.

“There’s been huge changes in Waterbury and it’s not just the Catholic church that’s been affected in every way the city has been affected,” Ft. Ford explained.

The Archdiocese is reporting a 70 percent drop in the number of people attending Catholic mass in the northeast over the last 50 years, but both the diocese and Ft. Ford see the new consolidation plan as a means to re-energize and rejuvenate the catholic community, especially in places like Waterbury.

“I’m very optimistic that this consolidation will result in more vibrant parishes because there’s strength in numbers.  For most people it’s not a positive experience to go into a church that holds 7, 8, 9 a thousand, 12-hundred, 13-hundred people and you’re there with 100 or 14,” Ft. Ford said.