St. Barbara Parish rallies behind Eagle Scout to honor late pastor

WOBURN -- At St. Barbara Parish, what started as one young parishioner's Eagle Scout project has turned into a community-wide fundraiser to honor their beloved, recently deceased pastor.

Last spring, Zach Bates looked around the parishes of the Woburn Catholic Collaborative, which includes St. Anthony of Padua as well as St. Barbara, in search of something he could do for his Eagle Scout project. He consulted the pastor at the time, Father Thomas J. Powers, who was enthusiastic about the idea and offered several suggestions.

Zach decided to restore the Marian prayer garden at St. Barbara Church, which was in "rough shape." The kneeler and railings were unstable, the wooden trellis was resting on the statue's head, and both thumbs were missing from the statue's hands.

Zach, who is going into the 11th grade this fall, said he felt that he "needed to do the church a favor, especially because they've been a big part of my life." He was baptized at St. Barbara's, made his first Holy Communion and Confirmation there, and used to attend many events there with his family, including Shrove Tuesday dinners, fall festivals, and pasta nights.

Throughout the months spent working on the prayer garden, Zach has been reminded of past parish events whenever he brings something down to the church basement, which has a stage and would have tables and decorations set up for many of the community events of his childhood.

"Every time I walk in there, I get a flashback to those nights, when people would be singing, all the food, everybody was there. But it hasn't been like that in a little while. So going back brought back some nostalgia," Zach said.

He received practical help from a variety of family, friends, and mentors. He was supervised by his "project coach," David Frizzell, one of the leaders of Scouts BSA Woburn Troop 502. Zach's mother helped to contact different companies and ask for donations. They found a sculptor who volunteered to repair the statue's thumbs. Home Depot and PondView Gardens were "big supporters" of the project, even donating some of the materials. Assistance also came from parishioners, current and former scouts, and Zach's middle school woodshop teacher.

They cleaned the Blessed Mother statue, raked and mulched the garden, replaced the trellis and railings, trimmed the overgrown bushes, and planted new flowers. Plans were made to install a bench, and a yard sale was held at the church in mid-May to raise funds for it.

But both the project and the parish changed before Zach's work was finished. Father Powers, who had been the pastor of the Woburn parishes since 2018, died of cancer on May 20, just weeks after Zach had spoken with him.

Zach's mother, Jane Bates, had the idea to make the bench a memorial dedicated to their pastor.

"Father Powers was instrumental for a lot of great things that happened at the church," she said.

Some groups, like the Knights of Columbus, offered to cover the cost of the memorial bench, but the parish decided to collect donations in Father Powers' memory.

The bench has an engraving with a picture of the late pastor and the words he said at the end of every Mass: "Make each day count!"

The parish is planning to hold a dedication ceremony with Father Powers' family when the project is completed, which Zach estimates will be in early September, before the upcoming school year begins.

"It was great to do the project, especially because I got to witness the community coming together," Zach said.