June 30, 2008

Worcester Church Closures Create New Marketing Opportunities

Yesterday marked the end of the road for five of Worcester's Catholic churches, closing due to dwindling attendance. While I can't say that I'm sad about the churches themselves closing down, I also feel sympathetic toward the people who've invested in them emotionally for many years. At the same time that I see such things as an encouraging indicator of the diminishing influence of religion, I take no pleasure at all in the pain that it causes to remaining believers. All of us become attached to any number of things that have an importance in our lives and even those of us who eschew faith in favor of reason often do so for reasons not borne of rationality. That's just human nature, a thing we all share in no matter our theology or lack thereof.

Tears mark churches' end

By Kelly Glista

The only signal that Notre Dame des Canadiens Church was holding its final service was a paper sign taped outside the door explaining that, starting July 1, services would be held at 35 Hamilton St.

Inside the church, sun illuminated the stained-glass windows and the organist played hymns while parishioners took their seats — as if it were any other Sunday. About 70 people attended the church's final service, marking the 138 years Notre Dame has served the Catholic community in Worcester. Two homilies were given, one in English and one in French, to honor the church's roots. Shortly after 12:30 p.m., the final hymn rang through the Romanesque building...

A little later and less than a mile away, Ascension Church on Vernon Street had its final Mass, as well...

At 3 p.m. services began at the third and final church to close its doors yesterday. Cars filled the parking lot and lined the streets around Holy Name of Jesus Church on Illinois Street...

The service ended about 4:30 p.m. as parishioners standing around the altar solemnly processed out. Rev. Mazzone paused to extinguish the single candle in the church's eternal flame, which is meant to symbolize God's eternal love in the church...

All three churches were closed by the Catholic Diocese of Worcester in an effort to reorganize the diminishing Catholic community in the city. According to the announcement letter from Bishop Robert J. McManus, 32 percent of registered Catholic households in the city provide regular offertory support to their churches. Before this reorganization effort, the city had 29 churches that collectively could seat more than 14,000 people.

All of the churches are officially closed as of tomorrow, along with St. Casimir Church on Providence Street and St. Margaret Mary Church on Alvarado Avenue...
I particularly wonder what will happen to the Notre Dame des Canadiens building on Franklin Street. Turtle Boy practically sits on its lot (you can see part of the church in this photo by Claudia Snell), so perhaps that could be incorporated somehow into whatever comes next. Perhaps the city council will consider building a Turtle Boy theme park on the site where Notre Dame now sits; it could be a great opportunity to better market Worcester. Maybe a water park would fill the bill. Then we could finally have a new slogan along the lines of Worcester: Grab a turtle and slide down our chute. I can see it all now.

Maybe that's not such a great idea.

Since first noticing the close proximity of a statue of a young boy doing unspeakable things to a sea turtle to the church I've wondered what parishioners thought of the statue as they emerged from services. It's probably a unique arrangement in all of America, perhaps all the world. It just won't be the same without Notre Dame des Canadiens nearby, I'm sure.

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