By Seth Daniel
With concern about finances and attendance, Parishioners and the Archdiocese of Boston are looking into the possibility of removing St. Anthony’s of Padua Church from its status as a territorial parish and installing it as an official Shrine of the Archdiocese.
The idea has come up in the last two months – an idea that actually came from some in the Parish – as the Archdiocese has engaged in a process with St. Anthony’s for a path of growth in the future. Though a decision is still 18 months away, a meeting on Jan. 8 has got many in the church community thinking if the future for the storied church on Revere Street could be in Shrine status.
“We were looking for solutions and becoming a Shrine is a solution we hadn’t thought about until it came up by the people at a meeting in November,” said Father Paul Soper, secretary for evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese. “We’ve been exploring it and we are exploring it with them. It can’t stay all the way it is. We need to find a solution…We’re very concerned about Bingo at St. Anthony’s and other Parishes when the casino in Everett opens. This might make St. Anthony’s more stable. A Shrine is one possible solution. There is no rush to figure this out. We have one and a half years before we have to act.”
Shrine status at St. Anthony’s has been intriguing to many Parishioners, and though it would mean losing some of the feel of the current Parish, some lay leaders said it could be the best way to keep it sustainable into the future.
Bob Marra, a life-long parishioner and lector at the church, said he has listened to the argument, and he is leaning toward supporting it.
“A St. Anthony’s Shrine could be a center of extensive activities such as devotions, festivals, and a guest speaker series,” wrote Marra in an op-ed in the Journal. “The concept of a Shrine, which hopefully will draw its life from a much larger population and become a center of devotion for people from everywhere, may be the singular solution. There are many questions that remain to be answered, but circumstances behoove the St. Anthony’s community to reflect on the current and future reality. I, for one, am receptive to the idea of St. Anthony’s as a Shrine.”
Marra and the Archdiocese have expressed that many would like to keep things the way they were, but attendance is not what it once was, and the finances are buoyed by the flea market and bingo – rather than by the weekly offertory giving, which is considered a more stable way for churches to pay for their bills.
“Parishes and shrines have to be funded independently,” said Father Soper. “They aren’t funded centrally. They have to be funded locally…St. Anthony’s is paying it’s bills, but it’s paying its bills with an income source that’s at risk.”
The idea of a shrine came when Cardinal Sean O’Malley and the Archdiocese decided that the three-parish collaboration plans were not going to work. St. Anthony’s had been part of a proposed collaboration with Our Lady of Grace in Chelsea and St. Mary’s in Revere. That, however, is no longer going to happen as the Cardinal will not endorse such a plan any longer, as it has proven to be too much of a strain to have one priest administrator responsible for three parishes.
Soper said the Archdiocese doesn’t have the resources to support a single-church parish the size of St. Anthony’s.
So, a Shrine was born – or at least the idea.
Soper said a Shrine is unique in that it is not tied to any geography. There would be no Parish, although Masses, weddings, funerals and other such things would still continue. Faith Formation (or CCD) would likely be transferred mostly to the other Parishes, and the change would likely result in a new religious order coming in to run the Shrine, though he said it’s too early to speculate as to which order could be tapped if the idea is adopted.
Without a geographic territory to tend to – and a Parish priest is expected to tend to the community within the Parish’s strict boundaries – more attention would be put into the religious mission.
“Part of the idea for St. Anthony’s is that St. Anthony’s has always had a greater reach than its neighborhood,” Soper said. “Revere is a very dense, tight city and there are three parishes currently, so St. Anthony’s doesn’t have a large geographic territory, but it has a far reach. It has an Italian flair to it…It could be possible that it could be a Shrine and might be able to do its mission better as a Shrine.”
Soper said Shrines are often devoted to a specific need of the people passing through or it could be devoted to a particular saint. At St. Anthony’s, the mission would have to be determined.
He said the Arch Shrine in downtown Boston is an example of a Shrine dedicated to those working in the downtown area, so it specializes in Masses on weekdays during, before and after work hours.
Also, just in 2016, the John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy went through the transition process. Being a former Polish speaking church, it focused its mission on St. John Paul and St. Faustina.
Marra said it was just 18 years ago that St. Anthony’s gave up its status as ‘Italian National Parish’ to combine with the former St. Theresa’s and St. John Vianney Parishes. He said many thought it would be the end, but he believes it actually worked out.
Now, cold realities are forcing a look at just such a change again.
“The elimination of these familiar connections to the Church understandably triggers fervent emotion among those who consider St. Anthony’s Parish an integral part of their family history and of their lives,” wrote Marra. “But reality is a cold reminder that the church that we know and love is different than the strong and crowded parish we remember. Truth be told, the mainstays that once infused St. Anthony’s with energy have withered over the years.”