Women Plan Rebirth of Millville Church

By Chris Sinacola
Telegram & Gazette [Worcester MA]
April 16, 2003 SearchID=73132960358764&Avis=WT&Dato=20030416&Kategori=NEWS&Lopenr=304160445&Ref=AR

It was raining on Hope Street in Millville last Friday. It was raining heavily. But Margaret Carroll and Lois Salome were seated at Miss Salome's kitchen table, planning the rebirth of their parish, St. Augustine's.

St. Augustine's was founded in 1880 in the heart of the heavily French-Canadian and Roman Catholic lower Blackstone Valley. Through good times and bad, the parish has thrived, even rebuilding following a catastrophic 1969 fire that destroyed the original church building.

But since early October, when the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon took a personal leave, the parish of 450 families has been adrift, without a day-to-day spiritual guide. Weekend Masses have been handled by a succession of priests, but no priest has been available to say daily Mass, to hear confessions, advise confirmation classes, visit the sick, or comfort the dying.

"You can't even schedule a funeral here in an expeditious manner,' Miss Salome said.

Some, like Miss Salome and Miss Carroll, have heard rumors of consolidation. They fear that diocesan officials might conclude that, given the shortage of priests, the time has come to combine St. Augustine's with either or both of the parishes in Blackstone, St. Paul's or St. Therese's.


The women sent letters to Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, but his responses, they say, did not address their concerns. The bishop noted that he could not address the status of Rev. Gagnon, something the women had not asked about, and do not expect him to do.

Rev. Gagnon remains on leave pending the outcome of a civil trial, in which the plaintiffs allege he sexually abused a boy while assigned to the Holy Name of Jesus parish in Worcester during the 1980s.

During the last six months, the women say, St. Augustine's parish has itself become an unpublicized victim of the clergy sex abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church in America.

A couple of weeks ago, they said, the church had exactly 98 parishioners at one Mass, a sparse gathering indeed in the spacious semicircular church, built to be a more welcoming place in keeping with the dictates of the Second Vatican Council.

Attendance and donations have fallen sharply, they add, and some parishioners are considering placing their annual Bishop's Fund donations into an escrow account until they are satisfied that church authorities have addressed their needs.


"From my perspective,' Miss Salome said, "a pastor is a person who is there.'

"We have not been treated openly,' Miss Carroll added. "The whole thing has deteriorated over the last six months.'

Consolidation is only one of the women's concerns. Primarily, the last six months have led them to question what has become of the Roman Catholic Church they know, and where their usually robust parish spirit has fled.

Except that Miss Carroll and Miss Salome decided to do something about it.

On April 6, the pair organized a parish meeting, inviting dozens of other parishioners with the understanding that the preservation of the parish was their only interest, and that "facts' - faith, action, commitment, trust, and spirit - the hallmarks of the parish, would be foremost on the agenda.

Although they would normally have held such a meeting at St. Monica's Parish Center, attached to St. Augustine Church, they were unable to obtain permission to do so. With no permanent pastor assigned to the parish, and the church deacon out sick, they had no local authority to ask. They sent a note to the chancery in Worcester stating their request, only to get a call advising them they should simply "ask the pastor' for permission.


Put off, but hardly deterred, the women held their meeting at the Chestnut Hill community center. Fifty parishioners attended, and many enlisted in a postcard campaign appealing to the bishop to meet with them.

Dozens of postcards were mailed, timed to arrive at the chancery earlier this week, and an open letter to the bishop, outlining the parish's collective concerns, was available for parishioners to sign after Masses this past weekend.

What bothers her most, Miss Salome said, is that church officials apparently have not learned during the past year that silence is not the appropriate way to respond to the faithful when they are in need. Never mind the guilt or innocence of an individual priest - what has become of the parish itself?

"If they do nothing and we accept it, we are accepting their example,' Miss Carroll said. "We're looking for acknowledgement.'

Then the phone rang. Miss Salome answered. Another parishioner excitedly relayed the news. According to the Catholic Free Press, Bishop Reilly was coming to Millville. He would be there at 7 p.m. Holy Thursday.

If Miss Carroll and Miss Salome have their way, the church will be full tomorrow night. All of St. Augustine's will be awaiting the bishop's next move.


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