BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Parishioners in this traditional Catholic city will meet Sunday to learn about a sweeping plan to reorganize parishes and streamline the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Rev. Paul Soper, who recently was appointed director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese, is the featured speaker at a 7 p.m. meeting in Immaculate Conception Church’s former school auditorium on Hawthorne Boulevard.
Notices of the meeting appeared in church bulletins.
This meeting is being held as Cardinal Sean O’Malley gets closer to announcing the start of the implementation process and the establishment of the first “collaboratives,” which are groupings of two or more parishes under one pastor with a merged pastoral team and parish council. An announcement is expected this month, according to local church leaders.
Over time, the archdiocese plans to combine its 288 parishes into 135 collaboratives that will share staff and resources. After the first group of collaboratives is named, the others are expected to be phased in over several years, local officials said.
There has been speculation that Salem could be in that first group largely because the city’s four parishes — Immaculate Conception, St. James, Ste. Anne and St. John the Baptist — established a task force almost two years ago and are well along in the planning process. Those four parishes, which will retain their church buildings and finances, make up the new Salem collaborative.
“If we do end up being in phase one, I think we’re ready to move forward,” said Andrea Schwartz, co-chairman of the Salem Parish Task Force.
Schwartz and other church leaders stressed, however, that they don’t know what the cardinal’s decision will be.
Salem Catholics are being encouraged to attend Sunday’s meeting to learn more about a plan that will reshape the church in this area. Although the issue has been discussed at individual parishes, this is the first citywide meeting. This will be an opportunity to ask questions and, hopefully, put an end to rumors, officials said.
“I think it’s important for everybody to hear it at the same place, at the same time and from the same person,” said the Rev. John Sheridan, pastor of St. James.
Although this new plan represents a significant change in church life, it is widely seen as preferable to the upheaval caused by the wave of church closings in 2004. There are no closings as part of this new plan.
The archdiocese has turned to collaboratives as a way to make use of limited resources at a time of declining church attendance, a growing priest shortage and limited financial resources. Church leaders see it as the best way to focus on evangelization, bring Catholics back to the church, increase Mass attendance and strengthen the parish structure.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.