NAUGATUCK — St. Hedwig and St. Mary churches will close, the latest in the Archdiocese of Hartford’s plan to consolidate dwindling parishes.
Tony Purcaro, president of the St. Mary Parish Council, said last week the archdiocese announced the decision to representatives from churches throughout the archdiocese at a meeting on April 3 in Bloomfield.
“Everybody’s upset,” Purcaro said.
The Rev. James Shanley, vicar of the archdiocese’s Office of Pastoral Planning, said last month that church leaders are finalizing plans with local parishes throughout the region in coming weeks. He said the goal is to consolidate church resources and strengthen the archdiocese.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Maria Zone could not be reached last week. A message left with her by the Citizen’s News early this week seeking comment wasn’t returned.
Additional closures and mergers of churches and schools are expected, especially in cities like Waterbury with dense clusters of churches. Church leaders have undertaken a study with the aim of consolidating church resources and strengthening the archdiocese.
In Naugatuck, Purcaro said he expected the churches to close around the end of May or June and the parish council and finances to be dissolved.
The closures will cause parish members, some of whom have attended the churches for generations, to scatter to other churches in the area.
Purcaro, who has been parish president for 40 years, said the archdiocese recommended parishioners from the two Union City churches attend downtown St. Francis Church in the future. Naugatuck has one other Catholic church, St. Vincent Ferrer Church, on New Haven Road.
Purcaro said he will attend Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Waterbury, where he was baptized and married.
“There’s really no other word to describe it than sad, very sad,” said Burgess Rocky Vitale, a 30-year parishioner at St. Mary. “It’s not the church we’re going to miss, it’s not the building we’re going to miss. It’s the people. It’s the dear friends we’ve made over the years.”
He said he plans to attend St. Anthony in Prospect, which is closer to his home than St. Francis.
Although the archdiocese has been discussing the possibility of closing churches for some time, parishioners were still surprised by the announcement.
“We kind of had an inkling this was going to happen. Everything is a big secret up there. Nothing is written in stone,” Purcaro said.
In December, The Sunday Republican reported that at least 38 churches across the Archdiocese of Hartford, including the two Naugatuck churches, were being considered for closure and another 60 parishes to be limited to worship sites.
Vitale, who is also a Eucharistic minister, lector, and on the finance board at St. Mary, said he believes the decision was financial.
“The church is like a business and they can’t lose money,” Vitale said. “It’s sad, but it’s understandable what they’re doing. A lot of the churches have just been squeaking by.”
St. Mary has been in the black for the last few years, he said, but just barely. A typical mass at St. Mary is attended by less than one quarter of the church’s capacity, Vitale said.
“We will survive this. We’re people of faith and we can practice that faith pretty much anywhere,” he said.
For parishioners, the closing of the two churches is emotional.
“I feel as though my childhood and family history is fading or being wiped away. The influences of both parishes and the school were profound and daily during my formative years,” said Chris Tampellini, a Union City resident who attended St. Hedwig School through fifth grade.
Her father also went to the parish school and was married at St. Mary, where he still does collections after Saturday afternoon mass.
“We have fond memories of both parish families. It is devastating to witness such iconic and central pieces of our faith and our daily lives being shuttered and abandoned,” Tampellini said.
She said she will attend either St. Vincent or St. Anthony, depending on the mass schedule.
“I drive past St. Mary’s multiple times a day. It will be difficult knowing it is permanently devoid of faith and people when it was once a cornerstone of the community, a symbol of hope and faith to so many,” Tampellini said.
Purcaro said the parish’s Polish population has the most to lose. The Rev. Sebastian Kos celebrates masses at St. Hedwig in Polish at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. He said Kos was expected to announce the closings at mass this past weekend.
A message left with Kos by the Citizen’s News on Tuesday wasn’t returned.