NAUGATUCK — Parishioners at two Roman Catholic churches in the Union City section of the borough are hoping to save their beloved parishes from possibly being closed by the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The Rev. Sebastian Kos recently told the parishes at St. Mary’s Church and St. Hedwig Church that it’s possible the churches could be shut down by next year.
The two churches, which have been largely supported by those of Polish and Lithuanian heritage for generations, have faced declining enrollment and lower parishioner donations in recent years. Therefore, as the archdiocese conducts studies to determine which parishes to shutter, those at St. Mary’s and St. Hedwig feel vulnerable.
Joan B. Taf, Naugatuck’s former mayor between 1999 and 2003 and the head of the Ladies’ Auxiliary at St. Hedwig, was invited to a discussion about the possible closure with representatives from the archdiocese recently in Cheshire. The archdiocese has several regional organizations that it calls deaneries, and Naugatuck is paired in the Naugatuck-Cheshire Deanery, which includes the four Catholic churches in Naugatuck, the three in Cheshire and one in Prospect.
Taf said she was told St. Mary’s and St. Hedwig are being seriously considered for closure as the archdiocese plans to eliminate three of the eight churches in those three communities. Since there is only one Catholic church in Prospect, St. Anthony’s, Taf said she does not believe that will be cut. She said St. Francis and St. Vincent’s in Naugatuck are likely not going to be considered for closure. She is not sure about the Cheshire parishes.
Decisions will not be made until the first quarter of 2017 at the earliest, according to the archdiocese.
The idea her parish may close is heartbreaking to Taf, who has been attending church at St. Hedwig since she moved to Naugatuck in 1955. Every Sunday, she attends mass with her family.
“I always say the family that prays together stays together, and I truly believe that,” she said.
Immensely proud of her Polish heritage, she likes that the church still holds a mass in the Polish language and it keeps many Polish-American traditions alive.
Taf hopes to bring together enough supporters to help convince the archdiocese to keep the two Union City Catholic churches open.
She showed 40 pages of statistics about the eight churches from Naugatuck, Prospect and Cheshire that the archdiocese handed out at the meeting she attended recently. It said “between 2010 and 2014, the total number of sacraments administered across the deanery declined by 21 percent.” The median age of priests within the deanery is 60, according to the statistics. And between 2010 and 2014, offertory income — income from parishioners — has declined by 1.4 percent and has declined by 3.3 percent when adjusted for inflation.
Of the eight churches within the deanery, two parishes had an average offertory income of less than $200,000 per year; three parishes operated with an operating deficit and average cumulative operating deficits of $60,000; and two parishes still operated with a net deficit after extraordinary activity. The handouts did not name the parishes.
Maria Zone, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said in an email, “the Archdiocese of Hartford is looking closely at a wide array of trends and other pertinent information to ensure pastoral plans promote spiritual vitality and sustainability. The Office of Pastoral Planning is also collaborating closely with deanery priests and parishioners from every parish within the Archdiocese’s 17 deaneries. … These collaborators will make recommendations for what their respective deaneries should look like in the future.”