Priest shake-up part of plan to save churches  

The Rev. Timothy Kearney will leave All Saints Parish in Haverhill this June, part of a realignment of parishes designed to keep churches open.File photo

One Haverhill church will see its pastor replaced, two others will be greeting new pastors, while another will keep its pastor.

Changes in pastoral leadership have come to Haverhill as part of a plan by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to create collaboratives among Catholic parishes in which in some cases, priests are shared to prevent churches from closing.

The Rev. Paul Soper, secretary for evangelization and discipleship and director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese, said the archdiocese is reassigning several priests and bringing in new ones to serve several churches at the same time.

He said parishes began entering this plan in 2013, with five to 20 collaboratives per year being created, and will continue to 2023 in a phased approach.

"This is phase six and this year there are 19 collaboratives being formed," Soper said.

Soper explained it's an ongoing effort to keep parishes open during a shortage of priests, which was the case when similar consolidations happened in Amesbury and Salisbury, at Holy Family Church and Star of the Sea, over the last few years.

"They're working under the leadership of one pastor now," Soper said of the Amesbury and Salisbury churches.

The Rev. Timothy Kearney is being reassigned from All Saints Church in June. Kearney has been with All Saints since 2011.

"All Saints does not have a partner, so it will be a single parish collaborative," Soper said. "Due to geography and the recommendation of the local bishop, it was decided to be a parish on its own, although it may share some staffing."

Soper said it will be announced at a later date where Kearney is going, and that both parishes will be informed at the same time.

He said that in general, priests are moved every so often as a way to best use their different talents.

"When anyone is in place awhile, you can get settled in a way of thinking and it's healthy to mix that up," Soper said.

He said the mission at All Saints will be more of a refocusing on the mission of writing a plan for evangelization, and helping the parish plan to grow rather than maintaining things as they are.

"In the church, we call it the new evangelization — an outreach to those Catholics who have fallen away or are disconnected with the life of the church," Soper said.

He said he understands how a parish can be upset at the loss of a priest it has become comfortable with, but that the feeling is often a temporary one similar to changing one's doctor or having a new teacher.

"If we only stick with what we're comfortable with, we're much more unlikely to think beyond the concepts we are comfortable with," Soper said.

The Rev. Chris Wallace, whom Soper described as young and highly energetic, will replace Kearney.

Soper said Wallace was ordained three years ago and serves as parochial vicar (associate pastor) at Holy Family in Amesbury and Star of the Sea Salisbury in a two parish collaborative that started in 2014.

"This is his first pastorate," Soper said about Wallace taking over at All Saints.

A new pastor will also be named soon at St. John the Baptist Church, which is currently being run by the temporary administrator from St. James Church.

Soper said he did not have a date for when a new pastor at St. John will be named.

St. James and St. John lost their pastor, the Rev. Robert Murray, about eight months ago when Murray was transferred to the new Mary, Queen of the Apostles Parish in Salem.

Murray was replaced with a temporary administrator, the Rev. Robert Connors, who will be replaced by permanent pastor, the Rev. Anthony Le. He  serves as an administrator at St. Bernadette Parish in Randolph.

Soper noted that Le speaks Vietnamese and English, while an assistant pastor, to be named, speaks English and Spanish.

Soper did not have a start date for Le.

There will be one parish council for St. James and St. John because of the unity of the mission, but two finance councils, Soper said.

He said the mission will be to focus on writing a plan for evangelization in this two parish, two church collaborative.

Sacred Hearts Church in Bradford and St. Patrick Church in Groveland, a single parish of two churches, will get to keep their pastor, the Rev. John Delaney, whom Soper said has been reappointed for six years, with the option of one renewal.

Under the collaborative plan, Sacred Hearts and St. Patrick's will have one parish council, and two finance councils.

The Archdiocese of Boston has been implementing up to 20 collaboratives per year, working closely with new pastors as they "come online and figure out how to build the strongest parish possible," Soper said. "The large-scale closing of parishes is not in our methodology. This helps us to keep the doors open at more churches."

During the first round of closures of churches in the archdiocese, three Haverhill churches closed in 1998 — St. George, St. Michael and St. Rita. Their congregations merged into what was then known as St. Joseph Church. St. Joseph was then renamed All Saints Church, the name it has today.


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