Salem welcoming ‘amazing success,’ says pastor

SALEM — In efforts to be a truly “welcoming parish,” St. James Church in Salem has incorporated many aspects the neighboring St. Joseph Parish which was suppressed on Aug. 15 into the fabric of its parish life.

Both St. James and St. Joseph parish councils and choirs have been working together and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist have been chosen from each parish for every Mass, according to Diane Santos who has been a parishioner at St. James her whole life, worked as parish business manager for three years and taught in the religious education program for 17 years.

Following the closure of St. Joseph’s the parish’s banner was carried in procession along with St. James’ banner at Masses on the two following Sundays. Now the St. Joseph School banner is carried out every Sunday. The second graders from both parishes will receive their First Communion together, Santos said.

But Santos stressed that St. James is not just welcoming parishioners from St. Joseph but all Catholics seeking a place to worship. Another parish in the area, St. Alphonsus in Beverly, has also closed.

Another bridge between the welcoming and closing parishes is the new St. Joseph School. This fall, after months of renovations, the school building belonging to St. James reopened as St. Joseph School. When St. Joseph Parish closed, so did its school building. At the same time, the school building belonging St. James Parish was vacant. The building had been rented out by the parish until last year but had not been used as a Catholic school for over a decade. It seemed ideal to reopen the closed building to accommodate the St. Joseph students. The new school will have students from pre-school to eighth grade.

Once it was decided that the St. James school building would reopen, renovations were planned.

Paul Plante, the principal at St. Joseph’s for 13 years, said the renovations have gone well, making made the building “spacious” and “conducive to learning.”

“We’re very happy in our new home,” he said.

The improvements include painting classrooms, installing storage space and white-boards, updating the hallway and remodeling the cafeteria, he said. Several other renovations are planned. Work on the gym will be the next project completed. Painting there was delayed because the roof was leaking. Plante also hopes to have a new lighting system installed during an upcoming vacation and put in new windows next summer.

The renovated school is twice the size of the old St. Joseph’s, Plante said. The new St. Joseph’s opened in early September with many of the same students and a higher enrollment.

Plante, a lifelong parishioner of St. Joseph’s, said the transition from one parish to the other has gone smoothly.

Immediately upon coming to St. James, Plante said, he felt the vibrance Archbishop Seán O’Malley hoped would come out of combining parishes. The new pastor at St. James, Father John Sheridan, has been very welcoming, he added.

“This is a parish that is rocking and rolling,” Father Sheriden said. “Things are alive.”

Also helping to ensure a smooth transition for parishioners will be former St. Joseph pastor, Father Lawrence J. Rondeau. Though he recently retired he will live in residence at St. James. Father Sheridan praised Father Rondeau’s enthusiasm and ability to encourage parishioners.

The people of St. James have been very welcoming, and Father Sheridan is glad to be part of what he calls an “amazing success story.”

“The neighborhood is great, the town has been supportive and the archdiocese has been right there from the beginning,” he said.

Parishioners from both St. Joseph and St. James have felt the pain of reconfiguration, and each parish has contributed something to the new community, Father Sheridan said. Before reconfiguration there were six churches in Salem, now there are five and one more, St. Thomas the Apostle, is set to close.

A large crucifix from St. Joseph’s will soon be put up in St. James Church, and the “new family” at the parish will carry their cross together, he said.

Father Sheridan also feels the pain of reconfiguration in a particular way because his home parish, Mary Immaculate of Lourdes in Newton, is closing.

“The challenge, as at St. Joseph’s, is to understand that we are part of a larger family,” he said.

God’s plan involves change, which is difficult, but we must “find an extraordinary courage” to look ahead, he said.