Relic of St. Matthew gifted to newly formed Billerica parish

BILLERICA -- A rare and precious gift recently passed between two newly formed parishes, as one let go of its namesake and another accepted that same patron saint as its own.

On Nov. 17, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Dorchester-Mattapan gave its relic of St. Matthew, patron of their recently closed church, to the new St. Matthew Parish in Billerica.

The parishes of St. Matthew in Dorchester and St. Angela Merici in Mattapan merged to form Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish over the summer. Not long afterward, it was announced that St. Matthew Church would be closing. The building hosted its final Mass on Sept. 27 and officially closed on Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, in Billerica, the parishes of St. Mary, St. Andrew, and St. Theresa of Lisieux consolidated to form St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish effective July 31. Its pastor, Father Paul Aveni, said that the idea for the name came from combining the first letters of the three parishes -- M for Mary, A for Andrew, and T for Theresa.

"I had thought of that as a suggestion because it honors the three previous parishes," Father Aveni said Nov. 21.

In mid-November, Father Garcia Breneville, the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, reached out to Father Aveni to offer the new St. Matthew Parish his community's relic of St. Matthew.

"They wanted to gift it to our parish because we're the new St. Matthew in the archdiocese," Father Aveni said.

On Nov. 17, Father Aveni met with Father Breneville in Mattapan to pick up the relic. Only a few parishioners were present to witness the handoff. However, Father Aveni said he "would have loved" to have the two parishes celebrate Mass together and that they talked about the possibility of doing so when coronavirus restrictions are loosened.

In a blog post on the St. Matthew Parish website, Father Aveni said he was "humbled and honored to receive this precious relic for our parish."

During the visit, Father Breneville reflected on the fact that St. Matthew was the only one of the four evangelists who was both a martyr and an apostle.

"Father Garcia (Breneville) and I reflected together about this relic, how this chip of bone was from a person who walked, talked and ate with Jesus. Matthew was a man who received a direct invitation from the mouth of the Lord, to reform his life as a tax collector and follow Jesus as a disciple. It was chilling for the two of us to think about that," Father Aveni said in his blog post.

Speaking to The Pilot, Father Aveni said that, to him, having the relic signifies "a new beginning" and "permanence" and shows that St. Matthew "has a presence" in the parish.

"To me, it's divine providence that we got this," Father Aveni said.

The relic will be kept in the three churches of St. Matthew Parish at different times during the year.

Father Aveni expressed gratitude to the people of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, who thought of others as their church closed.

"At what I imagine was a difficult time for this community, when they could have felt pity for themselves and strived to keep things as they were, they chose rather to pass on as a gift their most precious treasure and part of their legacy to someone else," Father Aveni wrote.

Father Garcia told Father Aveni during the visit that the parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel felt that, "We're one Church."

"I know they weren't talking about buildings," Father Aveni said.