[Updated] Three West Hartford Parishes Impacted by Archdiocese of Hartford Reorganization

The Church of Saint Brigid on New Britain Avenue, West Hartford. Photo credit: Dylan Carneiro

[Updated Sunday, May 7, 2017, 5:15 p.m.] The Archdiocese of Hartford began informing parishioners of reorganization plans at 4 p.m. mass on Saturday.

By Ronni Newton and Joy Taylor

Catholics in West Hartford learned this weekend that a planned reorganization by the Archdiocese of Hartford will impact local parishes.

According to an email from Maria Zone, communications director for the Archdiocese of Hartford, “As a result of a two-year pastoral planning process, as of June 29 there will be 127 parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford, instead of the current 212.”

In West Hartford, there are currently six parishes, but as of June 29, 2017, that number will be reduced to four.

The Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair, Archbishop of Hartford, informed parishioners at Saint Brigid in West Hartford on Saturday about the merging of three West Hartford parishes.

An excerpt from the letter explains the plan: “After a lengthy and prayerful period of consultation, discussion and research involving both clergy and lay leadership, a determination has been made that as of this June 29th Saint Brigid in West Hartford will merge with Saint Helena Parish and Saint Mark the Evangelist Parish in West Hartford.”

The letter continues: “Each church building will retain the name with which it was dedicated, but together these three parish communities will form a new parish to be called Saint Gianna (Beretta Molla) Parish.”

Saint Peter Claver, Saint Thomas the Apostle, and Saint Timothy parishes will not be affected.

According to Blair, Father Joseph Devine will serve as pastor of the new Saint Gianna parish.

The administration of the new parish will be located on the St. Brigid premises. All records, including baptism, confirmation, marriage, will be maintained at the St. Brigid property.

Two of the three parishes being merged in West Hartford have already been linked. Since 2009, St. Brigid and St. Helena have shared a pastor.

The “reasonable proximity of the worship communities and the respective church edifices, the desire to avoid duplication of services and the increasing expenses associated with necessary repairs and maintenance to aging structures” were noted as factors in the decision to merge.

According to a decree issued by the archbishop, the number of registered households in the three parishes to be merged has decreased significantly. Between 2010 and 2015, there has been a 14.5 percent decrease at St. Mark the Evangelist, 10 percent decrease at St. Brigid, and 42.9 percent decrease at St. Helena.

The decree also states that the “sacramental activities” at the three West Hartford parishes have also had a sharp decline of 26.7 percent at St. Marks, 15 percent at St. Brigid, and 34.6 percent at St. Helena.

“People are sometimes resistant at first, but over time they come together as one family of faith, and the result is greater unity and new vitality to various forms of parish life and outreach,” Archbishop Blair said in a news release issued Sunday. “The restructuring of parishes is meant to strengthen the Church’s mission by generating new enthusiasm and greater resources to foster the spiritual and liturgical life of a community, as well as its merciful outreach to what Pope Francis calls the ‘spiritual, moral and material destitution’ of so many in the world today.”

In a media advisory, the Archdiocese stated that the plan to reorganize parishes is being undertaken “in light of current realities and in order to assure a more vibrant and mission-oriented future.”

The shortage of priests was noted in the archbishop’s letter as a “significant factor, but by no means the only one in pastoral planning.”

Specific factors involved in undertaking the pastoral planning process, according to a document released to media on Sunday by the Archdiocese of Hartford, include:

  • “Shifts in demographics, economic conditions, and urban and suburban development;
  • “In the last 50 years, Sunday Mass attendance in the Archdiocese has declined from 395,000 to 123,500, a decline of nearly 70 percent; this is matched by a decline in baptisms and church weddings;
  • “As is generally the case in the United States, not only fewer church weddings, but also fewer ordinations to the priesthood; since 1965, the total number of active priests in the Archdiocese has dropped from 535 to 186, a decrease of 65 percent;
  • “Financial sustainability – a number of parishes are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain aging buildings with fewer active parishioners and fewer financial resources to meet their obligations.”

According to Zone, across the Archdiocese “68 parishes will remain as they are; 59 will merge. The mergers will involve unions of two, three, four, five and six parishes.”

Following the reorganization, 186 of the existing church buildings in the Archdiocese of Hartford will remain open while 26 will no longer operate as churches holding masses, Zone said.

Specific plans for the three West Hartford church buildings that will be combined into one new parish have not yet been set but will be “subject to local determination over time” according to the Archdiocese. New uses for buildings that will not house churches may also be considered.

Parochial schools in West Hartford will not be impacted by the changes announced as part of this phase of pastoral planning.

The Archdiocese did say that “as the parish changes evolve, Catholic elementary schools will continue to be studied in regard to enrollment, financial viability, academic excellence and vitality. We anticipate more reconfiguration of schools in the next two to three years.”

The Archdiocese defines parish, which in Connecticut also constitutes a civil legal entity, as “a community of people, constituted under the authority of a priest/pastor legitimately appointed by the diocesan bishop,” while a church is simply a building.

A complete list of all parish changes can be found in the PDF below.

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Church of St. Helena on Echo Lane in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

St. Mark the Evangelist Church on Quaker Lane South, West Hartford. Photo credit: Tom Hickey

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  • Will these two churches in West Hartford eventually close? If they are keeping their same names, what does the reorganization really mean for these churches? And is this really “breaking” news?

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