John C. Seitz
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In 2004 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston announced plans to close more than eighty churches. Distraught parishioners occupied several of these buildings in opposition to the decrees. Seitz tells the stories of these resisting Catholics in their own words, illuminating how they were drawn to reconsider the past and its meanings.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06131-6
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: Closings
    (pp. 1-39)

    Like many Catholics of her generation, Susana lived life deeply connected with her parish. Sometimes her home seemed like an extension of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, which she could see just down the street from her tall brick row house in East Boston’s Jeffries Point neighborhood. Her deep connection went beyond the sightlines. For one thing, vital supplies shuttled back and forth between home and church with regularity. In the years before she helped raise funds to install a new kitchen in the church basement, Susana used to cook great batches of macaroni and gravy in her own...

  4. 1 The Pasts Living in People
    (pp. 40-80)

    “People kept saying, ‘We own the church! We own the church!’” Ralph explained. “But what the hell were they talking about?” In 2004, Ralph, a middle-aged businessman and lifelong parishioner of Boston’s Sacred Heart parish, seized on this enticing but vague piece of parish oral history as a spur to the effort of resisting its closure. At first there seemed to be very little reason for hope. Like many Boston-area parishes, Sacred Heart had lost much of its previous luster. Mass attendance was down, the number of marriages and baptisms had dropped off, some of the parish clubs had ceased...

  5. 2 Divergent Histories: Change and the Making of Resisters, 1950–2004
    (pp. 81-130)

    First-time visitors to Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in East Boston could easily miss the small saints’ room tucked in the corner immediately to the right upon entry. From the beginning of the church’s existence, this room had been a site for intimate devotional prayer. Along its main wall, there were several alcoves cut out of green marble, each housing a different saint. Since the church’s beginnings, petitioners would light candles in front of a particular saint, dropping perhaps a few coins, a dollar, or more as a donation and offering. Income from these and other candles around the...

  6. 3 “What do we have?” Locales and Objects in the Hands of the People of God
    (pp. 131-173)

    Sunday, October 12, 2004, was scheduled as the day for the “Last Mass” for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in East Boston. Two days later the parish was permanently to shut its doors. The church and surrounding properties would soon be sold and perhaps leveled to create room for new developments. The “Last Mass” was a chance for the community to offer a collective ritual goodbye to their ninety-nine-year-old Italian national parish. As in other locales around the archdiocese, however, things would not go as planned in East Boston.

    Shortly after the mass ended, as mournful parishioners listened to...

  7. 4 “This is unrest territory:” Authority and Sacrifice in Resisters’ Practice of the Parish
    (pp. 174-212)

    Among the community of Italian-American Catholics in the Jeffries Point section of East Boston, daily errands are rarely performed anonymously. In this one-square-mile cluster of triple-deckers and converted industrial buildings, chores on the streets augment Sunday mass as a chance to connect with neighbors, swap stories, and keep up with the news. Though the neighborhood’s family-owned shops and offices have partly given way over the years to large retail chains, Jeffries Point’s residents still find traces of familiarity and sociality in the streets. This is particularly true for the neighborhood’s longtime residents, many of whom affiliate themselves with the one-hundred-year-old...

  8. 5 Openings
    (pp. 213-233)

    In 2008, a woman named Diane responded to an advertisement I had placed in the archdiocesan newspaper seeking stories, photos, and records from people whose parishes had closed.¹ Although Diane did not make a habit of reading the Pilot, a friend noticed my ad and suggested she call. Diane had considerable experience with Catholic Boston’s dark season. At the time of the Boston shutdowns, she was serving as principal of a Catholic elementary school, St. Andrew the Apostle in Jamaica Plain. The parish connected to the school had closed in 2000, just two years before the world learned that it...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 234-248)

    In 2004, Carla, Sacred Heart’s former business manager, left behind the drama surrounding the proposed shutdown of her North End parish only to enter into a new and even more pressing round of tragedies. “I had a lot of things happen,” she told me in 2009. “My mom had a major heart attack, my father died from lung cancer, my sister’s husband, [aged] thirty-four, was killed in a car crash … then I had breast cancer. So who cares about the stupid church!” After the discovery of the San Marco Society deed helped subvert the plan to shut down Sacred...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 251-304)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 305-308)
  12. Index
    (pp. 309-314)