| Last night Bob Hanson, our former Executive Secretary and "official unofficial historian" (in the words of the Society president), gave one of his periodic lectures at the Historical Society. As usual, it was very funny and told to a standing room only crowd - and punctuated by the occasional "wheezy laugh." As this is the 250th anniversary of St. Paul's Church, he spoke on the history of that religious society.
Much of the lecture focused on the worst priest they ever had, a man named Rev. Montague. After arriving in Dedham from Old North Church it quickly became clear that he was much more interested in the 135 acre Samuel Colburn patrimony than he was in the spiritual needs of his flock. At the end he was even calling himself the "temporal rector," having apparently abandoned any concern for the next world so he could focus on this one.
In much more recent history, when the Archdiocese of Boston was consolidating parishes several years ago, St. Susanna's was slated to merge with St. Mary's. Parishioners there appealed, and they won a rare reprieve. It was decided the parish would remain open until the end of the term of the current pastor, Fr. Steve Josoma. They were the only parish to get such an arraignment, and Fr. Steve's term is up in March.
|Two weeks ago another blogger in San Fransisco heard of what happened and wrote about it on her blog:
Just last week, a niece of mine expressed an anti-hierarchical opinion when talking about how her pastor in Dedham Mass had succeeeded in keepng their parish church open when threatened with closing. She believes that the Boston Archdiocese was threatening to close the parish because the pastor would say things the hierarchy didn't like, such as voicing his support for homosexual marriage from the pulpit. See, he wasn't a [what word did she use? slave, patsy, ?] She saw nothing wrong with her pastor, who is an ordained representative of the Catholic faith standing up and opposing official Church teaching, nothing at all. Apparently one can be a Catholic without believing in Catholic teaching, and not only that, one can feel obliged to stand up against the leaders of the Catholic Church if they teach doctrines that are contrary to current mores.
It is true that Fr. Steve was an active and vocal opponent of the Constitutional amendment defining marriage as a man and a woman. He even gave the maximum campaign contribution to Senator Marian Walsh and went to her election night party after she came out strongly against the amendment. She also supported keeping St. Susanna's open. I've never seen a priest publicly support a candidate - as opposed to an issue - before, but Fr. Steve did. The only other campaign donation he has ever made was $100 to Jarrett Barios, an openly gay former State Senator from Cambridge. Both contributions were made using his mother's address in Brighton, where I believe he is still registered to vote.
That said, I don't think Fr. Steve's unorthodox opinions are the reason St. Susanna's was scheduled to close. I took a lot of heat at the time for saying this, but I think it was chosen because it is simply a small parish. In 2003, the last year for which I can find statistics, it had the 3rd lowest Mass attendance in our vicariate. It is tough to separate our emotions from an issue so close to our hearts, but the numbers are what they are.
I also don't want this to seem as if I'm coming down on Fr. Steve - I'm absolutely not. I've always liked him personally, and have since he gave me my First Communion. In fact, he said one of my favorite Masses. It was while I was a student at Oakdale and parents were building a new playground. Fr. Steve came and said Mass in the auditorium so any Catholics working on the project would not have to leave to do their religious duty.
I asked a parishioner if he had heard anything about what was going to happen, with Fr. Steve's term rapidly coming to a close. He tells me that the parish is going to remain open, even if Fr. Steve gets reassigned. I asked if there was a reason why, and his answer consisted of two words: Jack Connors.
Connors is Chairman of the advertising agency Hill Holliday, a big philanthropist, and a St. Susanna's parishioner. My friend didn't tell me in so many words, but I was lead to believe that he would stop being such a generous donor to the Archdiocese if his parish closed. I don't know for sure what is going to happen, but I imagine that in another 250 years a future local historian will look back on this period and describe it as the most important religious happening in Dedham of our generation.
Also in the religion department, a nun in Chicago writes NunBlog, and made reference to our town earlier this month as well. The Pauline book store on Rt. 1 apparently cannot keep Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau on the shelves. It tells the story of the special bunker set aside at a Nazi concentration camp for priests and seminarians. The nuns who run it also spent Christmas morning singing on Cardinal Sean's TV Mass. The photo is from his blog.