Elements of closed Boston churches find new life in Texas

BRAINTREE -- Pews and stained-glass windows taken from now shuttered churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will be finding new life in a church in Texas.

The St. Juan Diego Church in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, was still under construction when it celebrated its first Mass on Dec. 9. About 700 people attended the Mass, despite the church property containing no parking spaces, no bathrooms, and incomplete flooring and ceiling.

The diocese is considered one of the poorest in the country, and the church, located just on the border of Mexico and Texas, is in one of the poorest areas of the diocese.

Still, as the people celebrated Mass in the incomplete building, large stained-glass windows throughout the church looked down on parishioners.

The windows, installed recently in the new church, were shipped from Boston earlier in the year. They had been in storage, taken out of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which was shuttered in 1996 and sold in 2000, and were donated to the Texas church.

"It's an amazing gift, an amazing gift," said Father Michael Montoya, MJ, pastor of the St. Anne Catholic Collaborative which includes St. Juan Diego Church.

Speaking to The Pilot by telephone Dec. 12, Father Montoya expressed his gratitude to the Archdiocese of Boston for sending the windows. He never thought his church community, which has a weekly collection of between $300 to $400 a week, would be able to afford stained-glass windows for the church.

"For us to receive the stained glass is just beyond the imagination of any of the people," he said.

It was Maureen Heil, director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies in Boston, and her office, who facilitated the donation.

Heil has known Father Montoya, a former director of the United States Catholic Mission Association, for years.

Speaking to The Pilot, she said she has followed the construction progress of St. Juan Diego Church on social media, and reached out to Father Montoya to ask if he needed stained-glass windows for his church.

On the very day Heil called him, Father Montoya had been looking over options for stained-glass windows. He knew he wouldn't be able to afford anything large, but thought he could possibly afford one, small window for the church. The phone call from Heil changed that.

Heil put him in touch with Deb Dillon, the archdiocese's director of Property Management, and with the authorization of Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, the archdiocese donated several windows from the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul. St. Juan Diego Church paid for the shipping, as well as for the installation and renovation of the windows, but Father Montoya was overjoyed.

"Being poor should not determine the kind of worship space that they should have," he said of his parishioners, adding again and again how grateful he and his parishioners are for the windows.

The archdiocese also sent pews, taken from the closed Our Lady of Victories Church in Boston, which are expected to arrive on or before Dec. 18.

An anonymous Boston donor funded half of the shipping cost through the Pontifical Mission Societies in Boston, while St. Juan Diego Church funded the rest. The pews were donated in memory of the late Msgr. Andrew Connell, a longtime head of the Societies in Boston.

Heil said that in gratitude for the donations, parishioners carved her name and Dillon's name into the studs of the church as it was being built. They carved their own names in it as well, as a way to always be a part of the church.

The parishioners, she said, "they deserve everything in that church to be beautiful."

Father Montoya said donations, in particular the stained-glass, "will be treasured here, not only in the community, not only in the parish, but in the diocese."

"I hope that the people of Boston will appreciate the fact that we will take good care of the stained-glass. They are really loved here," he said.

Acknowledging that the donations came from churches that are now closed, Father Montoya said he wished to tell the former parishioners that "the legacy of their parents and grandparents is not lost."

"They are given new life in this new church that is being built," he said.