New parish councils, finance councils, and other committees will be formed. New Mass schedules will have to be determined, along with decisions about which rectories and other church buildings to utilize. Although the collaboratives become official in July, pastoral changes will be slowly introduced over the next year. Each collaborative has until December 2014 to submit a plan to the archdiocese outlining how it will operate. Mass schedules, housing for priests, and efforts to reach out to new or non-attending Catholics must be included, according to the archdiocese.
“We want to make sure that people know we are all in this together,” said Allen, a Lawrence native who grew up in Saint Patrick Parish there. “We’re going to listen to representatives of each parish, to learn from their experience.”
In most cases, clergy assignments will bring a new pastoral team to a collaborative. Along with new pastors, most parish priests will likely be reassigned in June, Soper said.
“It could be very hard for a [parish priest], when a new pastor comes in, to have to reach out and expand” to new parishes, he said.
Assignments for retired priests, who live in rectories and help out with saying Mass, will be decided on a case-by-case basis, he added. “It will be up to Cardinal Sean [O’Malley],” Soper said.
As pastor, Allen wants each parish to keep its own identity and traditions. Saint Andrew is the oldest Catholic church in town, built in 1868 in North Billerica. Saint Mary, in the Pinehurst neighborhood on the southern end of town, has an active women’s group. Saint Theresa, located in the middle of the two parishes, has an active Society of St. Vincent de Paul dedicated to helping the needy.
“Each parish has its own character, and it will maintain its own character,” Allen said.
Change will come slowly. “The most dramatic thing, I think for people initially, will be the Mass schedule,” he said in an interview at the Saint Theresa parish office. “I have no vision yet of what that will be. We still have to work that out.”
Communication, from the weekly bulletin to Facebook, will be key to the collaborative’s success, he said.
Already, he has purchased three Internet domain names: billericacatholics.com/org/net. A Facebook page will be updated with news of all three parishes, and he plans to expand his presence on Twitter.
“Whatever people use today to communicate, we’ll use it,” said Allen, an affable man with an easy smile.
“We have to keep the people we have involved, and think of ways to bring people back to church. We can’t just expect them to come to us because we put a sign out front of our churches.”