Compromise sought in East Boston closure

Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley will allow the convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston to remain open as a religious-education center for Sacred Heart in East Boston in exchange for the cancellation of a sit-in organized by Mount Carmel parishioners set to begin this weekend. A chapel will also be built inside the convent so that Mount Carmel parishioners will be able to worship there.

“It was done in exchange for not staging a sit-in,” Father Francis de Sales Paolo, OFM, pastor at Mount Carmel said Oct. 5. “It was kind of given as an olive branch to the people.”

Although the planned sit-in was canceled, a group of about a half-dozen parishioners gathered in the church building on the evening of Oct. 12, the church’s official closing date, in what appeared to be a spontaneous sit-in. Parishioners said they felt the deal was struck in desperation and was not acceptable.

As of press time, it was unclear whether or not the protest would be ongoing.

Father Paolo, along with the pastor of Sacred Heart, Father Wayne Belschner and a seminarian, Jason Ettheridge, proposed the idea of keeping Mount Carmel’s convent open. All three presented the proposal to Bishop Richard Lennon. Parishioners approved of the plan on Oct. 4.

The compromise benefits elderly Mount Carmel parishioners who cannot travel far for Mass, said Father Paolo. Some parishioners of the Italian national parish also hope to have Mass in Italian at the convent since Father Belschner speaks Italian. Mass in Italian is now offered at Sacred Heart on weekdays at 9:00 a.m.

The decision is also good for Sacred Heart, Father Belschner said. The building Sacred Heart is currently using for religious education, St. John the Baptist Church, was obtained from a parish that closed decades ago. It is in disrepair, too small for incoming students, and the cost of repairs would be “overwhelming,” he said.

“It really was in the best interest of both parishes coming together,” said Father Belschner. “When you have people who come together in a common goal with faith, miracles do happen.”

The closed convent has been occasionally rented out over the last 10 years and is in better condition than the St. John the Baptist building.

Father Paolo, who has been appointed pastor at St. Margaret Church in Buzzards Bay in the Diocese of Fall River, hopes that the building will be called Our Lady of Mount Carmel Religious Education Center.

The arrangement to keep the convent open is not mentioned in Mount Carmel’s decree, signed by the archbishop on Oct. 5. The decree stated that the suppression was set at Oct. 12 at 12:00 p.m., and the “goods and obligations” of the parish would “become the goods and obligations of the Archdiocese of Boston.”

Archbishop O’Malley has also reached out to former parishioners of St. Albert the Great in Weymouth who are occupying the church building that was suppressed on Sept. 1, but the pastoral council there has refused all of the archbishop’s proposals.

Sister Catherine O’Connor and Father John “Jack” Ahern have met with St. Albert’s parishioners three times in the last three weeks at the request of the archbishop, said Sister Catherine. Parishioners were angered when Father Ahern and Sister Catherine arrived unannounced at St. Albert’s for the first meeting. The pastoral council met with Sister Catherine and Father Ahern two more times since then. Their last meeting was Oct. 3.

The meetings have been cordial and respectful, Sister Catherine said.

After speaking with Sister Catherine and Father Ahern about the meetings, the archbishop offered to meet with representatives from St. Albert’s pastoral council and send a priest to the church on Sundays to celebrate Mass, according to Sister Catherine. The priest would be sent every Sunday until the parishioners’ appeal to Rome has been answered. Archbishop O’Malley also offered to send a representative to explain the reconfiguration process to the pastoral council.

In exchange for these two compromises, the archbishop asked the parishioners to leave the building at night for safety reasons. Parishioners would still be allowed to continue their vigil during the day. But, parishioners have rejected the offers, including the meeting with the archbishop they have been demanding for months. They have said they will not meet with Archbishop O’Malley until he agrees to reestablish their parish, Sister Catherine said.