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Polish Heritage District could save Mater Dolorosa Church

Date: 8/9/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – The parishioners seeking to protect the Mater Dolorosa Church believe a recent court ruling concerning Our Lady of Hope Church in Springfield will bolster their cause.

Attorney and parishioner Victor Anop said the members of the church have been watching the case, which has so far upheld the city’s right to establish the church as a historic district in order to protect the building.

Mater Dolorosa, like Our Lady of Hope, was closed through a plan to consolidate churches throughout the diocese.

Anop said the parishioners have worked for the past two years to establish a similar historic district, this one being called “the Polish Heritage District” with Mater Dolorosa as the centerpiece.

He said the Holyoke City Council is scheduled to conduct a public hearing in September before taking a vote on creating the district.

Anop said that if the council creates the district, the diocese “can’t touch the building, but can remove religious objects.”

Anop said the final disposition of the parish, which was combined with another to form a new parish, is still being considered at the Vatican. He said there have been discussions once the church is protected of leasing the building from the diocese and hiring a retired priest to conduct Mass.

He noted the tax-exempt status of the building would be preserved if Mass is said on a regular basis.

Anop also criticized the recent resignation of Father Alex Cymerman, the last pastor of Mater Dolorosa and the pastor of the new combined parish. He disputed the stated reasons for the resignation of “family responsibilities and ill health” and said resignation “appears to be the sad part of a larger story.”

Anop said in a statement, “As chairman of Friends of Mater Dolorosa, it is my unenviable responsibility to point out that in the 117-year documented history of the parish, no pastor has left the church with such a profoundly negative legacy like Cymerman which is verified by parishioners over the last two years. As Catholics, we must speak out against the code of silence (omerta) regarding priests that has plagued our church. The financial and accounting mess Cymerman left for the past and merged parish, his lack of leadership, disclosure, and insensitivity he displayed to Mater Dolorosa parishioners and its Polish ancestors will forever live in infamy. He should admit his past wrongs against the Mater Dolorosa People, and ask for absolution.”

Anop added, “While Friends of Mater Dolorosa have compassion for those who are ill and their families, as indicated as a rationale by Alex Cymerman for his resignation, recent infirmities can not excuse ten years of financial mismanagement, secretive negative activities against key individuals and groups, failure to lead, and a spineless abandonment of Mater Dolorosa parish and its heritage during the closure process. We strongly agree with one recommendation of the ‘Pastoral Planning Committee’ of the Bishop’s closure committee that each parish should employ the services of a professional business manager (Diocese Report, Aug.25, 2009 {Par.1105, xxvii} which in our opinion, with a new Bishop, could lead to stability.”

In responding to Anop’s statements, Mark Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, told Reminder Publications, “It would take a lifetime to correct every misstatement made by Attorney Anop, some which are so false they are blatantly malicious and un-Christian.

Dupont continued, “Father Alex has tendered his resignation effective Aug. 16, and as he has made perfectly clear in his statements to parishioners this past weekend this was due to growing health concerns and a desire to be more available to assist his 99-year-old mother, who lives in Buffalo and a brother in Texas with Alzheimer’s disease. For Atty. Anop to manipulate these circumstances by grandstanding for his cause is a new low and deeply saddening and shameful.

“Father Alex has dedicated his life in service to the Church and has made many personal sacrifices – he deserves our thanks for 48 years of active priesthood, the last two which have been instrumental in laying the foundation for the new parish. A parish that has been embraced by the vast majority of former Mater Dolorosa parishioners. A group which, with all due respect, has been disregarded by local news media simply because they aren't making a lot of noise.

“To his credit, Father Alex has graciously agreed to stay on in Holyoke and assist Franciscan Father Albert Scherer who will serve as administrator.

“In accepting this resignation, Bishop expressed his thanks to Father Alex for his ministry to the people of Holyoke,” he said.

Dupont noted a July 4, 2010 pastor’s column written by Cymerman that noted the parish was in financial trouble with $600,000 being owed to the diocese.

Dupont added, “Finally the new parish has, as did the former parish, professional lay business administrators assisting in the financial management. Again Attornery Anop is wrong in his facts.”