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Diocese to close South End parish

The Rev. Hugh H. O'Regan celebrated Mass in Latin at Holy Trinity Church on Easter Sunday last year. The Rev. Hugh H. O'Regan celebrated Mass in Latin at Holy Trinity Church on Easter Sunday last year. (MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Paulson
Globe Staff / May 23, 2008

A Boston parish dedicated to serving two of the smallest and most unusual Catholic communities - those of German descent and those who prefer to worship in Latin - will close at the end of next month, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday.

The long-anticipated closing of Holy Trinity Church, located in one of the last ungentrified corners of Boston's South End, is scheduled to take place June 30, four years after the Archdiocese of Boston first decided to close the church.

The closing is one of two the archdiocese is planning this year, and the other, St. Casimir in Brockton, is also a small parish dedicated to an earlier generation of Catholic immigrants, Lithuanian-Americans.

Critics say the archdiocese is quietly embarking on a new round of parish closings, about two years after largely wrapping up a sweeping consolidation effort in which the number of parishes in the archdiocese was cut from 357 to 294 through closings and mergers. But the archdiocese says it has no plans to close more parishes.

Holy Trinity is small for a Catholic parish. About 50 people attend a weekly German community Mass, and about 100 attend a Mass in Latin, according to the priest in charge there. Most of the worshipers commute to the church from throughout Eastern Massachusetts.

The congregation is cohesive, and unusually conservative for a group challenging the church hierarchy. At the Latin Mass, many of the women still wear veils, and there are a number of large families, which parishioners say reflects obedience to the Catholic Church's opposition to birth control.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley cited low Mass attendance, a low number receiving the sacraments in the parish, demographic changes, and the need to reallocate resources as his rationale for deciding to close Holy Trinity.

"While I am grateful for all that Holy Trinity German National Parish has contributed to the history of the archdiocese, the time has come for the parish to close," O'Malley wrote in a letter to the administrator of the parish, the Rev. John J. Connolly.

Parishioners are unhappy with the planned closing.

"The archdiocese is making a mistake," said Christine M. Quagan, who attends the Latin Mass at Holy Trinity. "Some things are worth more than money, and Holy Trinity is too valuable to lose. We've lost too much of our heritage, and we've never been given a chance to say that this parish can be self-supporting and contributing one-of-a-kind services to the archdiocese."

The archdiocese has established a replacement site for celebration of the Latin Mass at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church in Newton. Since Pope Benedict XVI opened the doors last year to wider use of the Latin Mass, the service has also been offered regularly at parishes in Brighton and East Boston. The pontiff has been a supporter of Latin, and recently the Vatican added Latin as one of the language options on its website; Benedict is also German, and last month he visited a German Catholic parish in New York City.

The biggest waves of German immigrants came to the United States in the 19th Century, and now the US Census Bureau estimates that about 7 percent of Massachusetts residents are of German ancestry. But the vast majority of Catholics of German heritage have assimilated into the broader Catholic population. Most of the German community's liturgy at Holy Trinity is in English; there is a monthly Mass with readings and music in German.

The archdiocese is offering to integrate the German Mass community into the congregation at the nearby Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and says it is willing to discuss incorporating some of the German cultural elements, particularly music, into worship there.

The Council of Parishes, a coalition of Catholics resisting some of the parish closings, warned that the planned closing of Holy Trinity is a harbinger of another round of closings.

"The imminent closing of Holy Trinity German National Parish in the South End and St. Casimir Lithuanian Parish in Brockton are clear evidence that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is embarked on another round of parish closings which will be massive," said Peter Borre, cochairman of the Council of Parishes.

Borre asserted that the archdiocesan chancellor, James P. McDonough, told some parishioners that "50 to 70 parishes would be closed in the future."

McDonough, in an interview yesterday, said Borre's allegation is a "complete and total fabrication."

"What I might have said is that parishes are facing financial difficulty, but that doesn't mean they're going to close," said McDonough.

"There are no plans for any systemic closings whatsoever, and no plans exist to plan for systemic closings."

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

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