The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

The Boston three-party: one priest to oversee three parishes

An archdiocese that for generations had one of the most vibrant and celebrated Catholic populations in America is about to set a surprising precedent.

From the Boston Globe:

The Archdiocese of Boston, facing a growing shortage of priests but reluctant to close more churches, plans to name one pastor to oversee three parishes in the historically Catholic neighborhood of Dorchester, a practice never before used in Boston.


The three-parish pastorate, already common in much of the Midwest, provides a window into the future shape of Catholicism in Eastern Massachusetts. Scholars say that 40 percent of priests in America already serve more than one parish, but the phenomenon has been rare in the urban Northeast, where the high Catholic population for decades generated a high number of priests.

Now inexorable demographic shifts are catching up with the Archdiocese of Boston, where the priest population is getting smaller and older, the number of people who identify as Catholic is declining, and many churchgoing Catholics have migrated away from the urban centers where most churches are located. The archdiocese already has 14 priests who oversee two parishes; the Rev. John J. Ahern will be the first to oversee three when he takes over Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Holy Family, and St. Peter parishes in May.


“The reality is that in the very near future we will not have the number of priests to meet the number of parishes we have, and so we need to be efficient and effective in the use of our resources,” said the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, vicar general of the archdiocese. “This is, on the one hand, a continuation of a trend that has already begun in the archdiocese, but it is also a preview of what we expect to be happening down the road.”

The major benefit to assigning multiple parishes to a priest is that it allows the diocese to avoid closing the parishes. But the move can be stressful and exhausting for the priest, who must find a way to juggle all the sacramental needs – baptisms, weddings, funerals, and Masses – at multiple locations, while trying to get to know parishioners and minister to them in less formal ways.


“It’s challenging, and it can be frustrating and lonely if you don’t prioritize,” said the Rev. Caleb Vogel, a 31-year-old priest who oversees three parishes and three missions over 100 square miles in southeastern Idaho. “But when I was a seminarian I worked in Michoacan, Mexico, and a priest there had 13 parishes. We in the US have been spoiled, having this one-priest-per-parish thing. It’s just a matter of perspective.”

Across the country, many dioceses have long assigned priests to multiple parishes. Many of the multiparish priests are in rural areas with small Catholic populations, but some are in urban areas; the Seattle Archdiocese has at least a dozen priests who oversee three parishes, including some in the urban areas of Seattle and Tacoma.


“We on the East Coast have not been hit by the problem as much as the Midwest, where in some places 90 percent of parishes share a pastor, but it’s coming,” said Charles E. Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University. “The alternative would be to close parishes, especially inner-city parishes that are close to one another, but Catholics have a real love for their parishes and prefer this to seeing their parishes close.”

Continue at the link for the rest.

PHOTO: The Rev. Jack Ahern at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Brookline. He will oversee three parishes in Dorchester. Photo by Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe.

Comments read comments(4)
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Thomas Scott

posted March 24, 2009 at 7:46 am

Things never stay the way they are forever. The facts are that despite dwindling populations of Catholics in the Northeast and Midwest, the national population of Catholics is bursting at the seams. Vocations are following as a result and more than one Diocese now has record levels of seminarians studying to become priests. This will spread to the NE and MW too in God’s time.

report abuse


posted March 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Remember, vocations may come from anywhere — the US, Africa, Asia, etc. — and I do believe we are slowly starting to see an increase in ordinations in a number of our seminaries.

report abuse


posted March 25, 2009 at 12:53 am

So the land of abortion democrats, the northeast, is having vocation issues. The city of Kennedy and Kerry, pro choice Catholics still welcome to Church and communion is having vocation issues. Imagine that. meanwhile, in the land of orthodox bishops, vocations are starting to flourish with good young orthodox priest who will build back the Church as they grow into power. Not sure ObamaCaths really need a priest since most are in dissent over church teaching. They need a missionary sent in from outside to convert those on the wrong path.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted March 25, 2009 at 6:39 am

Greta…If you read the article, you’ll see that the issue has less to do with orthodoxy than it does with changing demographics. And if you read this item, which I posted some weeks back, you’ll see that vocations are starting to surge in Boston. As a friend pointed out to me, perhaps God is rewarding Card. O’Malley for his sensitive handling of the sex abuse crisis. Blessings,Dcn. G.

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