Weekend Mass times to change as Cheshire congregation to share priest

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CHESHIRE — Parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption Church are preparing for a new weekend Mass schedule as they start sharing priests with a neighboring Catholic parish in Northern Berkshire.

The Rev. Steven Montesanti, pastor at St. John Paul II Parish in Adams, also will help officiate Masses at St. Mary after the Catholic church lost its pastor nearly two months ago.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield this month announced the pastoral collaboration along with a new Mass schedule for St. Mary to mesh with the Mass times at St. John Paul's two churches, Notre Dame and St. Stanislaus Kostka Mission.

Starting Labor day weekend, St. Mary's Saturday Mass will move from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Sunday Mass will be 15 minutes later, at 9:15 a.m., according to St. Mary's website.

Diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont said The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, the diocese's bishop, "is most grateful to [Montesanti] for taking on this new responsibility." Dupont added that a retired diocesan priest, the Rev. William Cyr, will assist Montesanti in celebrating weekend Mass at both parishes.

The joint pastoral duties, or "yoking," of the parishes is due to the ongoing shortage of Catholic priests in Western Massachusetts, according to diocesan officials.

For six weeks, St. Mary parishioners were uncertain about the future of their church after Rozanski announced in a letter June 27-28 that St. Mary's pastor, the Rev. Matthew Guidi, was being reassigned to Our Lady of the Lake parish in Southwick. Since then, various priests have been filling in temporarily to officiate weekend Masses at St. Mary. The diocese announced the "yoking" of the parishes the weekend of Aug. 3-4.

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That same weekend, the bishop stunned members of nearby North American Martyrs Chapel, announcing in the same letter the cancellation of the lone weekend Mass at the chapel. Rozanski cited poor attendance at the Saturday Mass and the cost of running the small church.

The diocese hasn't yet issued an official decree that would lead to the deconsecration of the chapel, a public ritual that renders the building to secular use.

North American Martyrs has been under the administrative and pastoral direction of St. Mary since reopening seven years ago. A Vatican decree in 2012 reversed the diocese's decision in 2008 to close the chapel on Old State Road in Lanesborough.

In late July, Friends of North American Martyrs submitted a proposal to the diocese stating that the fewer than 100 active members are prepared to independently manage and financially support the 84-year-old house of worship. The save-the-church group has vowed to raise the $8,000 annually to pay for the chapel's operating expenses.

"We are relatively inexpensive to maintain and extremely self-sufficient when it comes to upkeep and management," Friends spokeswoman Lori DiLego told The Eagle this month. "The chapel has a character and charisma of its own that is recognized by anyone walking through the front door."

The diocese is reviewing the Friends of North American Martyrs' written proposal of self-governance to keep the chapel open at least as a shrine and, hopefully, to resume holding a weekly Mass. When North American Martyrs reopened in 2012, it was under the condition as a shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to become a saint.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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