NEEDHAM — After over a decade of service at St. Joseph Parish in Needham, Msgr. James Haddad said he did not want gifts for his retirement, so parishioners instead collected over $70,000 to be used to build a church and clinic for a poor community in South America in his honor.
Ed Davis, who was St. Joseph’s vice-chairman of the parish council at the time of Msgr. Haddad’s retirement, said the parish wanted to do something different to pay homage to their “dynamic” and “highly-respected” pastor.
They knew he had an affection for the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle–founded in 1958 by then Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing in order to serve the poorest of the poor in South America—and they decided to give the money to the society to build a church in Peru, said Davis.
At the request of Msgr. Haddad, the church, located near Lima, will be named Cappella San Jose after the Needham parish.
The pastor of the newly constructed church, Father Joseph Martin, is Msgr. Haddad’s friend and classmate. The construction of the church cost $50,000, and the $20,000 that was left over went to help build a clinic in the mountains near Lima, he said.
“It’s amazing to me what you can build for $50,000,” said Father Martin.
The church building was completed a few months ago, and Msgr. Haddad also said he was surprised at how far the money went.
Msgr. Haddad said that he is “delighted” by the project and hopes that it will serve the people of the area well. The poverty there is “staggering,” he said.
“We were glad we could do it,” he said.
Father Robert Thomas, director of the St. James Society, said the area is one of the poorest outside of Lima. Father Martin serves five churches in an area populated by over 150,000 people. The new church will serve a region with about 30,000 residents where the people have no funds to build a place to worship.
The floors of the finished church are currently bare and the building has no altar, pews, or religious items. Father Martin has left the church unfinished so that parishioners can help bring it to completion, Father Thomas said.
“The little that they have, they are more than willing to help out,” he said. “It is their church, and they want to feel that they are a part of it, so it is a cooperation with the people within the parish.”
The Society of St. James establishes financially viable parishes throughout South America and then hands them over to the local diocese, said Father Thomas. They also build medical centers and focus on religious education to meet both physical and spiritual needs, he said.
While building churches with the help of donations is something the society often does, the organization is not often approached by a parish dedicating a church to a former pastor, he added.
“This was very unusual insofar as it was the whole parish backing up the pastor who was retiring,” Father Thomas said.
During Msgr. Haddad’s service at St. Joseph’s, Mass attendance rose, participation in parish activities surged, the CCD program grew, collections went up, the school thrived and a new middle school was built, Davis said. Msgr. Haddad is a natural teacher and communicator who dedicated much of his time to young people and has a good sense of humor, he added.
“You’ve created a climate of openness, candor and opportunity, access and friendliness that has made our parish a busy and wonderful place,” Davis said to Msgr. Haddad at a Mass celebrating his 40 years of priesthood. “From your leadership and the climate it has produced comes a great sense of pride from your parishioners. We’re proud of our pastor because you’ve made us proud to be Catholics.”