The Closing of St. Gabriel’s in Brighton

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by Fr. Roger Elliot, C.P.

St. Gabriel’s in Brighton, MA

It came as no surprise: our returning of St. Gabriel’s in Brighton, Massachusetts to the Archdiocese of Boston. After almost 100 years in the area, we would leave with heavy hearts and, yet, with a sense of gratitude for the ministries which had taken place at St. Gabriel’s Monastery and Retreat House (which closed in 1978) and up to the present time of 2006 at the Parish. Because of the shortage of Passionist personnel in our religious community (St. Paul of the Cross Province – east coast of the United States), we had already determined at previous meetings that the last Pastor of St. Gabriel’s would be Father Justinian Manning.

When Father Justinian died on January 13, 2006, the transfer process began. The Passionist Consultors from the Provincial Council, Fathers Joseph Jones and Melvin Shorter, met with the Parish Council of St. Gabriel’s Parish in March 2006. Although the Parish Council was saddened to hear that we would return St. Gabriel’s Parish to the Archdiocese of Boston, they understood our position. Still, they held the hope that the Archdiocese might be able to staff St. Gabriel’s into the future. I was so impressed with the attitude of the members of the Parish Council that night. They agreed that if the Archdiocese could not maintain St. Gabriel’s Parish, they would not stage demonstrations like a number of other Catholic parishes in the Boston area, but would cooperate fully with the Archdiocesan Officials.

Bishop Richard Lennon, then the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Boston, met with the St. Gabriel’s Parish Council at the Archdiocese of Boston chancery offices and gave ample time to their arguments for continuing St. Gabriel’s. He agreed to come to St. Gabriel’s Parish for a general meeting and answer the questions of those present. He explained how the Archdiocese was affected by the shortage of priests and the lack of funds to repair major damages to the St. Gabriel’s Church structure. There were some heated moments as the long-time parishioners argued for continuing St. Gabriel’s Parish. Bishop Lennon handled himself very well, and finally the parishioners were persuaded by the St. Gabriel’s Parish Council and others present that no matter what the decision of the Archdiocese, they would cooperate fully. Again, I was moved by the attitude of the parishioners during this difficult time.

Waiting to hear from the Archdiocese of Boston regarding their decision seemed interminable. I attended two meetings of the Presbyterian Council with Cardinal Sean O’Malley present. They were all most gracious and grateful for the work of the Passionists and people of St. Gabriel’s over the past years. It was not until the end of June 2006 that we received the Decree of Suppression from the Cardinal, which was effective July 14, 2006. The long wait was finally over.

Our “Farewell and Thank You” Mass was held on Saturday, June 25, 2006 at 4:00 P.M. The new Passionist Provincial, Father Joseph R. Jones, was the principal celebrant. As the Parish Administrator, I preached the homily. In attendance from the Passionist religious community were Fathers Salvatore Riccardi and Kenneth Walsh, Passionists from West Hartford, Connecticut and Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, as well as Father John Doyle, who worked with the Spanish Community associated with St. Gabriel’s Parish, and Very Rev. Kevin O’Leary, Vicar Forane. The latter represented the Archdiocese of Boston. St. Gabriel’s Parish Church was just about filled to capacity, and a simple reception followed in the School cafeteria.

In my homily, I paid tribute to the patience, understanding and cooperation of the parishioners during these difficult months of waiting. I encouraged them to take these virtues with them to the welcoming parish, St. Columkille’s, shepherded by Msgr. William Fay, who would most cordially receive them. I acknowledged the hard work of Father John Doyle and the members of the Spanish Community. I ended my homily reminding the assembled congregation of the words of a member of the St. Gabriel’s Parish Council at one of our meetings: “Whatever happens, we will move as a community. This is what the Church is all about. If this Church closes we will move together as a community.”

The members of St. Gabriel’s Parish have moved as a community. They remember the words of the Lord: “Do not be terrified. I am with you always.” I will always be grateful to the people of St. Gabriel’s Parish for their response to a difficult decision. I am indebted, too, to Passionist Father Richard Burke, Rector of St. Ann’s Monastery, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the Passionist community for allowing Fathers Riccardi and Walsh to assist me in Brighton from November of 2005 to July 2006. I don’t think I would have been able to make it without their presence and assistance.

Looking back on the experience in Brighton those two years, I am grateful for so many graces and blessings. However, I was very disappointed with the media, who were on hand to interview us regarding the closing of St. Gabriel’s Parish but declined to print the press release on our history in the Boston Archdiocese or the final Liturgy which had been written by Passionist Father Rob Carbonneau. It seems that an account of a smooth transition wouldn’t have sold newspapers.

I have to say that I was disappointed, too, at our Passionist Provincial Chapter of 2006 prior to the formal closing. While we voted officially to return the Parish to the Archdiocese, there was no time to celebrate our years of life and ministry in St. Gabriel’s Parish. However, being welcomed back to the Passionist religious community in Scranton made my transition easier. It did take me some time, though, to adjust to a new life after the stress of Father Justinian Manning’s sickness and death and the drawn-out approach of the Archdiocese regarding the actual date of the closing of the Parish. All of this, of course, is part of life. The Lord is still with us and will be with us for the difficult days ahead in the Province.

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