The virtues of such hierarchy and authority were never clearer than in the last decades of the 20th century. As white Catholics began leaving the city in increasing numbers, many urban parishes struggled to pay bills, repair roofs, and fill their pews. In some parishes, Haitians and Vietnamese and Hispanics resuscitated the old churches and sent their children to the parish schools. Since the 1960s, successive archbishops of Boston have committed the archdiocese to subsidizing parishes that could no longer support themselves. Just when synagogues and many Protestant churches relocated out of the city or closed their doors entirely, Catholic parishes stayed and helped stabilize neighborhoods.
….Suburban towns gain identity from an overlapping web of institutions, all of which reinforce the boundaries of their community — public schools, churches and synagogues, firehouses, police stations, town halls, libraries, shopping districts. In most of the compact neighborhoods of Boston, though, only the parish has been a reliable anchor of community life. Tearing down parish boundaries threatens the integrity of countless neighborhoods. “If we had to close,” a St. Peter’s parishioner told a reporter from the Globe last month, “the people in this neighborhood would have nowhere to go. At this church, it’s not just a matter of going to Mass.”