NAUGATUCK — The Archdiocese of Hartford made an anticipated decision official this past weekend: St. Hedwig and St. Mary churches in Naugatuck are closing.
“It’s a tough transition, but we will see it through. We will survive this,” said Burgess Rocky Vitale, who has been a parishioner at St. Mary Church for about 30 years.
In April, local church leaders announced the pending closures of St. Hedwig and St. Mary as part of a plan to reduce parishes due to shrinking participation rates.
A plan released Saturday by the Archdiocese reduces 212 parishes in Litchfield, Hartford and New Haven counties to 127 effective June 29. Sixty-eight parishes remain unchanged. The remaining 144 parishes will be blended to form 59 new ones. The full plan is available online at www.stewardsfortomorrow.org.
“We have always said that the hope here is for a revitalized, more vibrant, church life,” Archbishop Leonard Blair said on Sunday. “By bringing people together where it is indicated in a responsible and good way, it’s not just about trying to close buildings we can’t afford or buildings that are only half-used, but to reinvigorate the community to reinvigorate priest and people alike.”
Under the plan, the parishes at St. Hedwig and St. Mary will merge with St. Francis Church downtown.
“There is not much we can do about it. No matter where we go we are Catholics. We are going to worship as we see fit,” said Vitale, who is also a Eucharistic minister, lector, and on the finance board at St. Mary.
“People are free to worship where they want to,” he added. “Me and my wife are planning on going to St. Francis to see what it’s like. If we feel like we fit and we like it, we will continue to go there.”
The Rev. Sebastian Kos, who performs Mass at St. Hedwig and St. Mary, will be reassigned to St. Francis, according to a list of priest assignments released Monday by the Archdiocese. Kos could not be reached for comment.
“That is good news because it means people can continue that relationship at St. Francis, if they choose to go there,” Vitale said.
Vitale added the records and funds from the churches that close will go to the church where the parish is reassigned.
Naugatuck will have one other Catholic church, St. Vincent Ferrer Church, on New Haven Road after St. Hedwig and St. Mary churches close.
The Archdiocese’s plan doesn’t impact St. Anthony Church in Prospect and St. Michael Church in Beacon Falls, the only Catholic churches in those towns.
The consolidation comes at a time when the number of Catholics in the Archdiocese is dwindling.
According to figures published on the Archdiocese website, the number of Catholics in the Archdiocese has shrunk 27 percent, from 751,192 to 545,980, between 1965 and 2015.
Active participation seems to have taken a harder hit.
The number of infant baptisms dropped 74 percent in the same time period. There were 1,082 Catholic marriages in 2015, a 76 percent drop from 1965. Average Mass attendance stood at 123,502 in 2015. That’s only 31 percent of what it had been in 1969, according to numbers from the Archdiocese.
The Rev. James Shanley, vicar of the archdiocese’s Office of Pastoral Planning, said he doesn’t expect any additional changes in parishes in the short term. The plan doesn’t trim as many parishes as leaders originally hoped, but should hold awhile, he said.
“What I wanted to do with the pastoral planning was ensure some stability,” Blair said. “I can’t stand before you here today and say with this plan for the next 10 years we don’t have to do anything. That would be irresponsible on my part. It’s simply not the case.”
Any future mergers or church closures will come from time to time, rather than in another grand reveal, Shanley said.
Luke Marshall and the Republican-American contributed to this article.