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Due to a “balanced,” “sensitive” and “caring” effort, parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church in Revere have succeeded in welcoming many neighbors — parishioners of the former Our Lady of Lourdes — to their parish.
“I’ve never seen such loving people embrace everybody,” said Barbara Smith, a former parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes. “You can feel the vibrance of that parish.”
Everyone from Immaculate Conception has been welcoming, and the transition from one parish to another has been smooth, she said.
Smith was a lector at Our Lady’s and read for the first time at Immaculate Conception in October. New lectors were greeted with a meeting where they were given a book of readings and schedule of who would read.
The welcoming process began with the previous pastor of Immaculate Conception, Father Joseph Antonellis, who left this summer, she said. He sent a peace plant as a gift to Our Lady of Lourdes in May after the archdiocese announced the parish would be closing. At Mass, Father Thomas E. Keyes, former pastor at Our Lady’s, read the letter of welcome that Father Antonellis sent with the plant.
The peace plant stayed on the altar until the final Mass, and Father Antonellis’ “heartfelt words” set the tone for closing, Smith said.
“Everybody knew they had a place to go,” she said.
Many Immaculate Conception parishioners attended the final Mass for Our Lady’s on Aug. 29 and stayed for the reception. Smith said it was comforting to meet with her new fellow parishioners in her own closing church.
The parish records from Our Lady’s were brought up in procession before the welcoming Mass at Immaculate Conception on Sept. 12. People from both parishes were altar servers, lectors and extraordinary ministers of Communion — one from each church. They plan to continue this practice at all Masses.
“The people of Our Lady of Lourdes still had a lot of sadness. I’ve formed a new parish council to try to involve the people from Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Lourdes, to bring them into one body,” said Father Derek Borek, who became administrator at Immaculate Conception at the end of June.
The early work of Father Antonellis and Father Keyes and their dealing with the difficult moment in an open manner are the reasons for the smooth transition that brought everyone into one parish, said Father Borek.
“The leadership really helped to foster a great relationship,” he said.
The parishioners also worked hard to welcome the parish’s new members.
“We were very conscious to keep it as balanced as we could and continue to do that,” said Donna Dreeszen, parishioner at Immaculate Conception. “I think we’ve been really sensitive and caring. It’s really been a labor of love.”
Dreeszen — who has served her parish as lector and member of the leadership team for altar servers — was also on the transition team in charge of welcoming and incorporating parishioners from Our Lady’s.
“I think it’s a gift to Immaculate Conception Parish to have such a strong, faith-based group of people join us,” she said.
Although altar servers and others have been incorporated from Our Lady’s, people from the former parish have to “find their own way” and Immaculate Conception parishioners must “step back and let the Holy Spirit work,” said Noreen Murphy, an Immaculate Conception parishioner.
“It’s an invitation, and we have to recognize that some may not take it,” said Murphy. “That’s okay.”
In this process, it’s important to acknowledge and be sensitive to the pain people from Our Lady’s are feeling, she said.
“It was gut-wrenching,” Murphy said. “You could see their pain. You could really feel it.”
Murphy said she saw a lot of pain while working with the reconfiguration group for her cluster. She also helped move sacred items from Our Lady’s to Immaculate Conception, sometimes taking out sacred items from Immaculate Conception to make room for the new ones.
“A church is just a building. We can say that, but it holds memories,” she said. “These weren’t strangers. They were family and friends in the community.”