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Don't snuff out our parish

THE ARCHDIOCESE of Boston has decided to close St. Catherine of Siena parish in Charlestown. This would be a big mistake. St. Catherine is located in the midst of the Bunker Hill project and serves as a lighthouse in a storm of drugs and drug-related crime. We offer hope in a neighborhood that desperately needs hope.

The decision-making process that led to the closure of St. Catherine's was defective. The parish-cluster approach -- which determined who's in and who's out -- deteriorated into a desperate game of self-preservation instead of what it was intended to be: objective assessment.

St. Catherine's was tag-teamed by the more affluent, all-white parishes in Charlestown, and now we're out, voted off the island. I don't blame the other parishes. I would have done the same to save St. Catherine's. But this shows the inherent flaw in the process.

Although we are subsidized, we could easily be self-sustaining if we were given some fiscal leeway. We have a 28-room rectory. A law firm offered to lease half of the building at $8,000 a month. The pastor could comfortably live in the other half. We've had numerous suitors interested in leasing our school, which is closed. Simply not paying the utilities on these buildings would put us in the black, even without the subsidy. But the archdiocese refused to let us act on these lucrative prospects.

The services we provide are unmatched by the surviving Charlestown parishes. The Harvest on Vine food pantry feeds more than 200 families; we offer English as a Second Language classes; we serve the only Spanish Mass, and we have a thriving youth center. We house the largest AA meeting in Charlestown, which meets seven days a week. We support youth sports and have women's Bible study.

For the archbishop to state simply that the surviving parishes will assimilate these services is naive. It has taken time, energy, and the right attitude to build tolerance and trust in this section of Charlestown, and it's an ongoing process. People of different backgrounds are not naturally tolerant and trusting of each other, but with the leadership provided by the Rev. Robert Bowers, we're getting there.

The seminary teaches a course on the damage done by the displacement of people, and they use the West End of Boston as a case study. The West End was bulldozed 45 years ago, and people are still smarting from it. I ask Archbishop O'Malley to please not turn this reconfiguration into a Catholic version of urban renewal, leaving a wake of destroyed spirituality.

St. Catherine's is a thriving Catholic community. We can support ourselves financially. We serve the poor and the newcomer. Whether you're an immigrant or a longtime Townie, whether you're broken, battered, or addicted, you are welcome at St. Catherine's. All are welcome here.

St. Catherine of Siena is a living, breathing Catholic family. It would be wrong to snuff it out. More than wrong, it would be immoral.

Tom MacDonald is pastoral administrator of St. Catherine of Siena. 

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