Reminder Assistant Editor
WEST SPRINGFIELD Doris Williams has been worshiping at St. Ann's Mission on Memorial Avenue since she was a little girl. Now 80 years old, she, like many other parishioners of St. Ann's, is fighting to save her house of worship from closure this year.
She described the mission as one always filled to capacity during her youth and the West Springfield community as one that always strived through everything to maintain the integrity of their establishment. Now, Sunday Masses are filled with a vast majority of seniors and very few young worshippers.
"My heart is still here and it kills me," Williams said with tears in her eyes of the Springfield Diocese's review of the mission as a possible closure site. She added that she and others have been heavily involved in trying to find ways to promote their mission to the diocese and find means of fundraising to offset expenses.
Baskets quickly filled up with donations at Sunday's Mass as over 70 parishioners made a concerted effort to do their part to help their waning mission.
"I don't know what I would do or where I would go," Connie Costello said after the Mass. "What is the community going to be after this [the closure]?"
Rev. Paul Burns, who came out of retirement to aid this mission by leading their Mass every Sunday, asked worshippers to pray for St. Ann's survival and praised the facility's beauty, functionality and importance to the community.
However, despite speculation and unconfirmed reports that St. Ann's Mission will be closing as early as this April, representatives of the Springfield Diocese have told Reminder Publications they have not made a definitive decision regarding its future.
The future of St. Ann's, a mission of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Springfield, has been up for debate ever since Father Joseph Massaro's death over one year ago and the Stigmatine Order's inability to provide the location with a replacement indefinitely. Currently, St. Ann's only has one Mass per week on Sundays and Masses on holy days led by Burns.
Recent misinformation that St. Ann's will close this April has prompted a sign to be displayed on the property, which reads, "Join us in prayer that St. Ann's will not close!"
Monsignor John Bonzagni, member of the Pastor Planning Committee, said the committee is working to produce a report by April that will detail a blueprint for change within the 10 regions of the Springfield Diocese. He said that as a courtesy to St. Ann's, the mission is being included in the pastoral planning process as a parish rather than a mission.
Bonzagni explained that missions differ from parishes because they are not protected under Canon Law, which stipulates that once a parish is erected certain processes must be completed in order for it to close. He added that the parish distinction has been attributed to St. Ann's as a way of including the location in the pastoral planning process and also because of the St. Ann's representatives' diligence to keep their mission open.
Several suggestions have been made by the St. Ann's representatives, Bonzagni explained, including coupling their location with others such as Immaculate Conception Parish or St. Louis de France Parish on Main Street.
However, Bonzagni said no decisions have been made regarding any aspect of St. Ann's future. He added that the Pastor Planning Committee will carefully review data obtained through a University of Massachusetts study called the Mullin Report, which assesses the need and functionality of parishes within the 10 regions of the diocese.
Bonzagni said the committee must also consider the declining number of priests available to the diocese. They've projected that there will only be 65 active priests by the year 2010.
"The Pastor Planning Committee's point of view is that everybody loves their church and wants to keep it open but we must marry that idea with the number of priests we have," he explained.
Regardless of the outcome of the committee's report this spring, Bonzagni added that no parish or mission will be closed right away.
Mark Dupont, director of public affairs for the Springfield Diocese, said in West Springfield "there's not a geographic hardship" if St. Ann's were to close because of its close proximity to Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Louis de France Parish.
Regardless of abundance of parishes in the area he said every effort is being made to be fair to every location and provide worshippers access to services.
For more information about the Springfield Diocese, including access to the Mullin Report, go to their Web site at www.diospringfield.org.