BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — St. Richard of Chichester Parish turns 50 next year. To mark the milestone, a committee has been planning a yearlong celebration that includes a kickoff Mass next month and a 10-day eastern Mediterranean cruise departing from Rome in September.
“The theme of the year is to remember the past, celebrate the present and believe in the future,” said Betsy Geheb, chairwoman of the parish’s 50th anniversary planning committee.
The kickoff celebration Mass takes place on Jan. 13 at 11 a.m., with a pancake breakfast held prior to Mass. Those who were baptized in the parish in 1963 are invited to attend.
There’s a year of events planned, Geheb said, and well-known residents Marge and Tom Leonard are serving as honorary chairman and chairwoman. Marking the anniversary also means “believing that we have got another 50, 100 years of us around here, as one community within our parish but also in the larger scope of Danvers,” said Geheb, a former secretary at Holten Richmond Middle School.
The thriving parish of 2,400 families is marking its 50th at a time of change within the church. The Archdiocese of Boston is in the process of reconfiguring parishes, given a demographic shift that involves smaller Catholic families moving out to the suburbs, a decline in the number of clergy and parishes that are struggling to make ends meet, according to the archdiocese’s website. Plans are to bring groups of two or three parishes together in what are being called “parish collaboratives.” Each parish would keep its church buildings and identity.
“We will be collaborating with St. Mary’s downtown,” said the Rev. Bruce Flannagan, St. Richard’s fourth pastor, who expects the collaboration to take place sometime in 2014 or 2015. Flannagan is in his 14th year as pastor of St. Richard’s.
The two Danvers parishes are already working together. For the past seven years, St. Richard’s has been the fiscally responsible parish for St. Mary of the Annunciation School, the pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on Otis Street, Flannagan said.
St. Richard Parish was founded out of St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish on Feb. 27, 1963, to accommodate Danvers’ growing population, Flannagan said. Its first pastor was Monsignor John Cusack. Railroad tracks through town became the dividing line for the two parishes. A prominent businessman donated the land for the church, Flannagan said.
It took four years to raise the money and build the church, so members would hold Mass in St. Mary School’s gym.
“There were six Masses on Sunday,” said John Call, a member of the anniversary celebration’s publicity committee, about the need for space to accommodate the growing parish. Call said 2013 also marks “the Year of Faith” for the Catholic church, which dovetails with the parish’s anniversary and efforts to reinvigorate membership.
“We hope that through all the different programs we are offering this year,” Call said, “that people do want to become more involved, as we have seen through the planning committee, that many people who have not stepped up in the past are now stepping up to do things.”
Emblematic of the desire to attract young people is the logo of the parish’s anniversary celebration, which was drawn by St. Mary School seventh-graders Emily Graumann and Ryan Jackson. They won a youth logo contest that drew more than 100 entries. The logo will be used with the celebration’s marketing.
“I think the fact that we have a logo drawn by children is an integral part of our next 50 years,” Call said, “because it’s their church moving forward. Many of the things we have scheduled throughout the year are family-oriented things.”
On Dec. 8, the church held its second annual Sounds of the Holidays Concert with the North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra. With a price of admission being a bag of groceries for the Danvers People to People Food Pantry, the church was able to collect 12,000 pounds of food, up from 8,000 last year. The food-drive concert is planned again at the same time next year as part of the anniversary celebration.
“I would suggest that’s the hallmark of this parish in many ways,” Flannagan said, “the outreach program, the reaching out to those in need, has always been pretty outstanding.”
Geheb said a highlight of this year’s events will be on May 19, when a founders anniversary Mass is scheduled. A gala and concluding Mass will be held the weekend of Nov. 17 and 18.
For more information on St. Richard’s 50th anniversary celebration, go to www.stricharddanvers.org.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.