Father Higgins said he hopes the Healy House becomes a model for other parishes with vacant spaces.
The work of evangelization has many appearances. In some parishes the focus is on creating a welcoming community. In some, the focus is on strengthening the weekend liturgies with good music and preaching. In others, attention is given to helping parishioners speak about their faith. Recently, one collaborative found a new and creative way to engage in evangelization and at the same time attend to some apostolic and charitable activities.
As collaboratives are formed, there are always some questions that arise about the best uses of the buildings within the collaborative. Often, a rectory will become available because the priests choose to live in one rectory to facilitate their sharing of meals, times of prayer and common life. When this happens, there arises the opportunity to consider alternative uses for rectories and other buildings.
The Catholic Collaborative of St. Albert and St. Francis Xavier Parishes in Weymouth found themselves with just such a situation. And so the pastor along with the pastoral council and finance councils began discussing what might be some "best uses" for the building at this time that would generate income for the parish and help meet the needs of others.
Deciding what would be the best use involved a year-and-a-half process that included numerous meetings within the parish and meetings with town officials about building codes. Parish members also interviewed several agencies interested in managing the property. After considerable thought and prayer by the pastor and parishioners, the decision was made to lease the rectory to Father Bill's and MainSpring housing.
John Yazwinski, the nonprofit's president and CEO, said Father Bill's and MainSpring is using federal housing funds to pay for leasing the space. Residents pay a percentage of their income as rent which enables them to get back on their feet with the right support. "Rents have risen greatly on the South Shore, so for the parish to take this vacant property and offer it to the most vulnerable brothers and sisters who struggle with homelessness is great," he said. "This adds to our commitment to end homelessness, not just manage it."
The parishioners understand that by transforming the rectory into transitional housing for a dozen men and women, they are contributing to helping these folks get back on their feet after being homeless. Father Charles Higgins, the collaborative pastor, sees this transformation of the rectory as one way of responding to Pope Francis' encouragement of Church personnel to use "assets to help those who are on the fringe or margin to make them feel welcome and at home."
A dedication ceremony took place following the 11 a.m. Mass on a recent Sunday in May. The rectory has been named the Healy House in memory of Philip Healy, a parishioner who looked after the rectory building for years. Healy died last year, as plans to renovate the building were taking shape.
Each Healy House resident has his or her own bedroom, and there are several shared bathrooms and other common spaces. Yazwinski said it's a "beautiful building" that is welcoming and homey for its new residents.
Father Higgins said he hopes the Healy House becomes a model for other parishes with vacant spaces. "I've spoken to the residents about how happy they are to have this -- their own space," he said. "It's a blessing for all of us, and we hope to develop relationships with the residents there."
So the work of evangelization continues in many forms. The leadership and parishioners of the St. Albert and St. Francis Catholic Collaborative, have taken to heart one of the goals of the archdiocesan pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, which is to "strengthen the work of the New Evangelization on parishes." This project will hopefully give rise to other new and creative ways of reaching out and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. We can only imagine what God has in store for the residents of Healy House as the make new their lives on the property of St. Albert's Parish. Congratulations to Father Higgins and his parishioners for taking this leap of faith!
Sister Pat Boyle is associate director of the Archdiocese of Bostonís Office of Pastoral Planning.