For a few months now, the faithful of St. Brendan Church have been bracing for the doors to close for good at their beloved worship space on Gallivan Boulevard. It seemed the most likely outcome, given the terminal diagnosis shared by the current pastor, Fr. Chris Palladino.
In March, he counseled his boss, Cardinal O’Malley, that the church should be “relegated,” a canon law term that would mean it would no longer function as a liturgical space. In the meantime, with O’Malley left to mull over the building’s ultimate fate, the pastor set a May 31 deadline for the end of using the church for religious events like Masses, weddings, and funerals.
So bleak was the state of disrepair at the church, Palladino declared, that it would be irresponsible to use it any longer without first fixing what’s broken.
On Friday, much to the delight of many longtime church-goers, the cardinal came to a different conclusion. In a letter, he demurred from making a final call on the long-term fate of the building. But, he said, the looming May 31 date with the locksmith was off the table. St. Brendan’s, his eminence decreed, will stay open, at least until the fall, when a not-yet-formed committee charged with reviewing the case returns with a new diagnosis for the patient— and, we infer from the cardinal’s missive, a new course of treatment.
“St. Martin de Porres Parish [a merger of the former St. Brendan and St. Ann parishes] is facing significant operating shortfalls and the need for significant capital improvements for the functionality and safety of the buildings,” O’Malley wrote.
“Meeting this challenge will require the resources of the community, the parish, and the school. Therefore, I am asking that a working group, which will include parish representation, develop a financial plan by Sept. 30, 2022, presenting a recommendation for the buildings and operations the parish can support. It is important that serious consideration is given to the impact that recommendations would have on both the parish and the school. Details about this process will be forthcoming.”
Thousands cheered the cardinal’s call on social media and, no doubt, more than one glass was raised in his honor at the Eire Pub last weekend. But, while there is outward relief, those who have labored over many years in service to the parish might be forgiven if they harbor a quiet skepticism about the roller coaster ride they have been subjected to over the last several years.
The existential conundrum facing St. Brendan has simmered and stewed under a rapid succession of pastoral teams. Each has faced suspicion that the fix is in, that their actual charge all along has been to whittle down resistance to the ultimate goal of closing St. Brendan once and for all.
In a church rooted in the “eternal” city, where time is measured in millennia, not months, there’s a rigidity and fatalism baked into such decision-making that has not well served the people of St. Brendan and other parishes already shuttered or sold. If there’s to be a lasting salvation for this or any other Catholic church in our city, the powers-that-be will need to meet their flock on common ground and with a common purpose.
If St. Brendan can be saved, then the cardinal should resolve to save it in earnest, not simply kick the proverbial can down the road. His flock is ready to respond to the challenge.
Bill Forry is the editor and publisher of the Reporter.