BEVERLY — Cardinal Sean O'Malley has assigned the pastor of St. Mary's Church the additional duty of leading St. Margaret's Church, a move that reflects the growing shortage of Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Rev. David Barnes was appointed in March as administrator of St. Margaret's in Beverly Farms. He will continue in his role as pastor at St. Mary's, the largest of the city's three Roman Catholic parishes.
Barnes will replace the Rev. Edward Keohan, who retired after serving for two years as the temporary administrator at St. Margaret's.
Barnes said an administrator has the same duties as a pastor. He said he does not know how long his dual role will last.
"I'm certainly happy to be of service at St. Margaret's and do the best I can," he said. "It's obviously going to require some effort to try to be in two places at the same time. The goal is for all of the parishes to start working more together. That's my hope that we accomplish that."
A spokesman for the archdiocese said it's not unusual for a priest to oversee more than one parish. On the North Shore, the Rev. John Sheridan is pastor of both St. James Church in Salem and St. Thomas the Apostle in Peabody.
"There's no denying we have fewer priests than we'd like to have," spokesman Terrence Donilon said. "It is a reflection of where we're heading as an archdiocese going forward. We have a person as capable as Father Barnes willing to take on another assignment. We're very blessed by that."
The archdiocese has 291 parishes in 144 cities and towns serving 1.8 million Catholics, only 20 percent of whom are active churchgoers. The archdiocese has about 350 priests, not counting retired priests and priests from religious orders. That number is projected to shrink to 180 within a decade.
O'Malley recently appointed a commission to study the possibility of retaining church buildings but combining some parishes under one pastor.
Barnes, 40, was the youngest pastor in the archdiocese when he was appointed to lead St. Mary's in 2004. He was named priest of the year at the Boston Men's Catholic Conference in 2007, in part for his role in leading St. Mary's out of debt.
In taking over St. Margaret's, Barnes will again be confronted with financial problems. The church lost a rent-paying tenant recently when Cape Ann Waldorf School moved out of a building next to St. Margaret's and into its new home on Moraine Farm.
In a March 30 letter to parishioners, Keohan said the church can no longer pay its current expenses and has "very little money in reserve."
Barnes said the rental income from the school accounted for about half of St. Margaret's budget.
"It's going to have a significant impact," he said. "It is definitely something that needs to be looked at."
Barnes and Donilon said they know of no plans to close St. Margaret's. The church was scheduled to close during a wave of church shutdowns in 2004 but was given a reprieve. It celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005.
Church attendance at St. Margaret's is around 300 per weekend, compared with 1,400 at St. Mary's.
Barnes said he has not been able to say Mass at St. Margaret's yet because the schedule conflicts with St. Mary's services. Retired priests, including Keohan, are presiding over weekend Masses at St. Margaret's. Daily Masses at St. Margaret's have been canceled because Barnes is busy with daily Masses and funerals at St. Mary's.
"It's been a little bit of a frustration for me," he said. "I obviously want to be there to get to know the people, and I haven't been able to do that."
The city's three Roman Catholic parishes, which include St. John the Evangelist, plan to form a transition team to help them work more closely together, Barnes said.
Donilon said the archdiocese is lucky to have a "strong, young" pastor like Barnes.
"There are going to be a lot of changes over the next 10 to 20 years, and these are the kind of guys who are going to lead us," Donilon said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at email@example.com.