FALL RIVER, Mass. — Father Raymond Cambra, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Fall River, at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Parish Pastoral Council on June 17, 2014, began to discuss the difficult but inevitable conclusion that the parish can no longer be maintained given the many challenges it faces.
Sacred Heart Parish has been diminishing in size over many decades, has mounting accumulated debt and, bringing this already difficult situation to a head, recently learned that its church boiler is beyond repair and in need of replacement.
As Father Cambra shared with his Pastoral Council members, the parish cannot survive another winter.
The decline of the parish has been chronic and is owed to a combination of changes in its neighborhood demographics and an aging parishioner base with few younger members, resulting in an overall decrease in the number of active, participating Catholics. A review of Sacramental statistics and other quantifiable parish data since 2000 indicate steadily decreasing numbers. Last year, the parish’s two weekend Masses drew an average combined total of only 206 persons (the church seats 900). In 2013, there were 10 baptisms, three weddings, five children receiving First Communion and no teen-age parishioners to receive Confirmation.
Fewer active parishioners results in diminishing financial resources for the parish. For several years, Sacred Heart Parish has been accumulating significant debt because of its inability to pay for ordinary expenses like property and health insurance.
Earlier in June Bishop George W. Coleman, Father Michael K. McManus, Moderator of the Curia for the diocese, and Paul Kawa, diocesan Finance Officer, met with Father Cambra to discuss the parish’s dire condition. Father Cambra told them that the parish could not make it through another winter. He was asked to meet with his Parish Pastoral Council to consider another parish of which they could become part, a time frame for closure and ways to help parishioners with the transition.
Since that time, Father Cambra has been meeting with Diane Rinkacs, the acting director of the Office for Pastoral Planning, for those purposes. The Parish Pastoral Council has decided that the closure will occur on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 23, 2014, and that the welcoming parish would be St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Since 2004 Sacred Heart Parish has sponsored a weekly soup kitchen and bi-monthly food pantry, providing hot meals, food items and more without charge to those in need. This ministry offers a significant contribution to the community as a whole and will be maintained. The soup kitchen and food pantry will be re-located to Holy Rosary Chapel, and it will maintain the name “the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry.” Its continuation going forward will serve as a testament to the dedicated efforts of Sacred Heart Parish to live out its mission in this way over the past decade despite its own precarious situation.
Bishop George W. Coleman, apostolic administrator of the diocese, commends Father Cambra for his pastoral leadership under difficult circumstances.
Father Cambra was the driving force behind the soup kitchen and food pantry. Bishop Coleman likewise thanks the parishioners for their willingness to face the reality of present circumstances. Bishop Coleman has assured Father Cambra and the parishioners that they will remain in his prayers.
Sacred Heart Parish was established in 1872 and its church completed in 1883. At this time no decision has been made about the future of the church building or any other parish property.