The Lynnfield parishes of St. Maria Goretti and Our Lady of the Assumption are among several in the archdiocese set to merge July 1. Pilot file photos
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BRAINTREE -- Financial stress resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has caused several parishes in the archdiocese to announce plans to merge in the coming months.
In a June 19 interview, Father Paul Soper, secretary of evangelization and discipleship, said greater financial stability is one of the principal reasons parishes seek to merge.
This is a particularly strong factor at the present time, as parishes work to recover from the effects of the pandemic. The suspension of public Masses from March through May, and the subsequent restrictions on the number of people who can attend an indoor service, has significantly diminished parish offertories. Additionally, parishioners who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic may not be able to contribute as much as they previously did.
Father Soper explained that the archdiocese used to have a Revolving Loan Fund, which served as a "safety net" when parishes faced financial emergencies. If a parish had money they were not using, they would put it into this fund on deposit, and the archdiocese would lend that money to parishes in need of loans. But because parish offertories have been lower and less reliable during the pandemic, parishes have needed to access their savings in order to pay their bills and their employees.
"As a result of that, the ability of the archdiocese to make emergency loans has all but evaporated," Father Soper said.
In the absence of that safety net, he said, "parishes are turning to the safety net of being in a financial relationship with another parish."
Many of the parishes planning to merge are already part of the same collaborative. Father Soper said a merger can be a "natural progression" in the relationship between parishes in a collaborative, where staff members may have already worked together and built relationships with each other.
"The coming together into one parish is a natural thing," he said.
He also said it is easier for parish leaders and staff members to care for people if the parishioners are considered one group rather than multiple groups. This simplifies the responsibilities of pastors, finance councils, and business managers.
In an April 27 video conference, the archdiocese's leadership discussed the pandemic's long-term impact on parishes and addressed the possibility of merging parishes in order to make them "fiscally viable."
During this meeting, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley acknowledged that, at his request, Father Soper had been calling parishes over the previous two weeks to raise the option of merging parishes.
"Some people have shared their concern that the archdiocese is using a huge financial hardship to force mergers. I want to clearly state that we are not, and we do not intend to force mergers. We're working with parishes to prevent a situation where they close due to not being able to pay the basic operating expenses," the cardinal said.
The following parish mergers are expected to be effective July 1:
-- Dorchester -- St. Ann Parish and St. Brendan Parish
-- Dorchester-Mattapan -- St. Angela Parish and St. Matthew Parish
-- Lynn -- St. Mary Parish and Sacred Heart Parish
-- Lynnfield -- St. Maria Goretti Parish and Our Lady of the Assumption Parish
The following parish mergers are expected to be effective Aug. 1:
-- Billerica -- St. Mary Parish, St. Andrew Parish, and St. Theresa of Lisieux Parish
-- Medford -- St. Joseph Parish and St. Francis of Assisi Parish
-- Quincy -- St. Mary Parish, Sacred Heart Parish, and St. Ann Parish