Closed but not forgotten

Final mass held at two borough churches

St. Hedwig Church in Naugatuck. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Parishioners at two of the borough’s Catholic churches bid their houses of worship farewell this week.

St. Hedwig Church and St. Mary Church officially closed their doors on Thursday, ending decades of religious services in Naugatuck. The closings were part of a larger plan by the Archdiocese of Hartford to consolidate 212 parishes in Litchfield, Hartford and New Haven counties to 127.

“It was very sad,” said former Mayor Joan Taf, a longtime parishioner at St. Hedwig.

Taf said the church played an important part in her life. Her children and grandchildren also attended St. Hedwig for many years, she said.

Taf said all the people in attendance at Mass on Sunday were sad to see the church closing.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the church,” Taf said. “It was just so sad and heartbreaking.”

Burgess Rocky Viatale, who has been a parishioner at St. Mary for about 30 years, described the reaction during Sunday’s service at the church as one of camaraderie with a mixture of crying over the closing and laughing over the memories.

“We all feel a loss but we are all in it together,” Vitale said. “Later that day we had a dinner in the church hall and it was packed. It was wonderful to see everybody together for a last time.”

The plan is to consolidate the parishes at St. Hedwig and St. Mary with St. Francis Church on Church Street. According to Taf, the Archdiocese is moving the records of everyone who attended the churches to St. Francis.

However, Taf said she, along with a number of other parishioners, are not sure where they are going to end up yet.

“I am going to go to St. Vincent Church and St. Anthony (Church) in Prospect and see if I feel comfortable,” Taf said. “The people all feel like I do. They haven’t made decisions yet.”

Vitale said he is planning on attending St. Francis for now because Rev. Sebastian Kos, the priest at St. Mary and St. Hedwig, will be leading St. Francis. However, he isn’t sure if that is the church he will ultimately call home.

“My wife and I will go there and see what it is like,” Vitale said.

The parishioners are not the only ones unsure about what the future holds now that the two churches are closed. Borough officials don’t know what the Archdiocese is planning on doing with the properties.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said he has been contacted by people interested in the buildings, but it is not for him to say whether the buildings should be sold.

Hess said the decision on what to do with the churches in the future is up to the Archdiocese and the parishioners who called the building home for many years.

“I believe that the desires of the parishioners should be paramount and they should have the first say in what happens,” Hess said. “If the Archdiocese’s position is they want to sell I believe there would be people interested in repurposing those buildings.”

St. Hedwig is at 32 Golden Hill St. The church and a church house sit on approximately 2 acres of land, according to land records. The land has been owned by the Catholic Church since 1906, and St. Hedwig was built in 1960. The buildings are a combined 28,645 gross square feet and the combined assessed value of the buildings and land is $115,210.

St. Mary Church in Naugatuck. –RA ARCHIVE

St. Mary is located at 338 North Main St. The church, a convent and a church house sit on just over 2 acres of land, according to land records. The land has been owned by the Catholic Church since 1910, and St. Mary was built in 1930. The buildings are a combined 21,989 gross square feet and the combined assessed value of the buildings and land is $128,880.

If both properties were sold and kept as they are, they would bring in an additional $11,850 in taxes under the 2017-18 mill rate.

The Rev. James Shanley, vicar of the Archdiocese’ office of pastoral planning, said parish buildings cannot be sold without parish consent. It’s true as well that parishes cannot chose to sell real estate without the consent of the archdiocese.

Any sale or transfer has to be vetted through multiple levels at the archdiocese, Shanley said. There must be an appraisal. The Archdiocesan Finance Council has to approve it. Even the archbishop cannot unilaterally decide to sell, he said.

“It has to go through many channels,” Shanley said. “It’s only a safeguard, to make sure someone is not selling it to a brother-in-law. There has to be documentation, appraisals and acceptances. It’s very complicated.”

Although the future is uncertain for Vitale and Taf, who have both been very involved in their respective churches, two things are certain: they will continue to go to church and be involved wherever they end up.

“I will help in any way they need,” Vitale said. “We don’t want to intrude on what is already established, but we will be glad to help in any way.”

“I don’t have a church, but I still have my faith,” Taf said.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.