For the last 150 years, St. Mary parish in downtown Lynn, Mass., has been part of the industrial community's long history, situated just blocks from city hall.
Soon the old English church will turn the page to
its next chapter as part of the inaugural wave of parish restructuring
in the Boston archdiocese.
St. Mary was one of 28 parishes announced Jan. 10 as part of 12
collaboratives in the first phase of the archdiocese's pastoral plan,
Disciples in Mission.
The pastoral plan calls for all of Boston's 288
parishes to form a collaborative -- a grouping of one to four parishes
led by one pastor, a pastoral team and shared finance and pastoral
councils -- while maintaining each parish's identity and without closing
The entire plan will play out over the next five years with the hope
that stronger parishes -- through shared resources and less financial
strain -- will allow pastors and parishioners together to focus on
evangelization, the force driving Disciples in Mission.
"All of us have our part to do, and this pastoral plan will help us
greatly with our mission," wrote Fr. Brian Flynn, pastor at St. Mary
church, in its Jan. 20 bulletin. His parish, where he has served for two
and half years, will partner in the Lynn collaborative with nearby
Sacred Heart church, just a mile and a half west along Lynn Common.
Several qualities of the two parishes made them appealing for the
first phase, said Fr. Paul Soper, director of pastoral planning for the
archdiocese: their collective Masses, which are offered in three
languages, English, Haitian/Creole, and Congolese; and their schools,
with Sacred Heart operating a strong, traditional, parish-based school,
and St. Mary tied to independently run junior high and high schools.
"We're going to have some other collaboratives that have
circumstances that are not dissimilar to that," Soper said, making Lynn a
viable case study location.
The 12 collaboratives of Phase One represent a diverse geography of
the archdiocese, with at least two collaboratives located within each of
the archdiocese's five regions.
Participation in Phase One was
voluntary, left to priests to offer their parishes as testing grounds
for the new plan. Flynn told NCR he nominated St. Mary in hope it would benefit from additional archdiocesan support as one of the case studies.
"I just think that it's an interesting challenge for us. It's challenging, but it's exciting," he said.
Determining who heads each collaborative becomes the next step in the
pastoral plan. Upon inclusion into Phase One, each parish's priest
submitted a letter of resignation, putting up for grabs who will
actually lead the parish through the restructuring process.
"That didn't really faze me that much until I actually had to do the
letter, you know, and then you realize that, hmm, come June when all the
pieces start to fall into place, I may not be where I am now. I may be
someplace else," Flynn said.
Open to all interested priests in archdiocese, pastor assignments
will likely conclude by early April, with each announced as it is
determined. At the Lynn collaborative, the new pastor could be Flynn; it
could be Fr. Mark Derrane of Sacred Heart; or it could be someone else.
Although a single priest will act as head, multiple priests will
receive assignments to each collaborative. How many will be based on a
variety of criteria, including a parish's sacramental load, but there's
no set formula to equate the number.
Through meetings with other parish collaboratives, Soper said a
common concern among parishioners is who will be their priest, and there
have been questions about parish identity.
That such worries exist is
not cause for alarm, he said.
"I would be distressed if we weren't
hearing the people were worried about losing their pastor."
Whoever ultimately heads the Lynn collaborative when it and the 11
others are formally inaugurated July 1 will take over two parishes that
have seen Mass attendance slip slowly, with roughly 300 fewer in the
pews in 2012 compared to a decade before.
Aside from confirmation, those
receiving sacraments -- baptism, communion, marriage -- have also
On the financial side, Sacred Heart saw losses exceeding $64,000 in
the fiscal year ending June 30, but the deficit lessens when paired with
St. Mary, which turned an almost $36,000 profit.
Combined, the two
parishes received an offertory of $553,937, a planned byproduct in
determining partnering parishes.
With pastors in place, the 12 collaboratives will begin to train
priests in May, then begin to train pastoral teams, parish councils and
school boards by September. The first wave of parish groupings is
expected to begin its work in full by January 2015, equipped with a
local pastoral plan formed by each group's pastoral team.
Keeping open the channels of communication among the archdiocese, the
parish and its parishioners has helped avoid some of the surprises a
restructuring can bring, as was the case in 2004, when the archdiocese
announced parish and church closings without warning.
Change is coming,
but this time, people are more aware of it.
In Lynn, 15 miles north of Boston, such change is no new development,
as the former shoe manufacturing hub and home of a major General
Electric plant shifts its economy as past businesses downsize and
In recent years, more immigrants have settled there, and a
growing LGBT community has aided its downtown revival.
The 150th anniversary celebration currently under way at St. Mary
offers an opportunity for parishioners to reflect on its past, but also
look ahead to what's next.
"We have a great past, and we're looking forward to a great future,"
Flynn said. "And that future may be a little different than we thought
it was going to be, but it's still a great future."