BY TOM DALTON
---- — The Catholic community in two North Shore cities is bracing for change.
On June 4, a new pastor, the Rev. Dan Riley will arrive from Weymouth to head the Salem collaborative, a grouping of four parishes that is part of a sweeping reorganization within the Archdiocese of Boston.
In Beverly, the Rev. Mark Mahoney from Topsfield arrives the same day to head a collaborative that includes three churches — St. Mary’s, St. John’s and St. Margaret’s.
Salem and Beverly are two of a dozen collaboratives chosen for the first phase of a pastoral plan that, over several years, will reorganize the entire archdiocese into an estimated 135 collaboratives. It is a way, church leaders say, to make better use of fewer priests and limited resources while preparing to grow the church.
But these next few days could be difficult for parishioners. Several priests are leaving after serving here for years. Under church rules, unless a current pastor is selected to head a local collaborative, he must move on to a new assignment or, in some cases, retirement.
In Beverly, the Rev. David Barnes, pastor of St. Mary’s since 2004 and administrator of St. Margaret’s for the past two years, will become chaplain of the Newman Catholic Center at Boston University.
In Salem, the transitions may be even harder because the four pastors have been there so long: the Rev. George Dufour, 21 years at St. Anne’s; the Rev. Timothy Murphy, 18 years at Immaculate Conception; Monsignor Stanley Parfienczyk, 16 years at St. John the Baptist; and the Rev. John Sheridan, 15 years in Salem, including the past nine at St. James following an earlier assignment at the former St. Joseph Church.
“It’s been very emotional,” said Sheridan, who presided over a farewell Mass Sunday. “There’s a lot of emotion, and I’m feeling it as well as everyone else. More than once I have had to stop talking and take a deep breath.”
With such lengthy assignments, priests have become neighbors and, in some instances, even more.
Dufour, for example, is a regular at Dube’s restaurant in Salem.
“He is beloved here in the Castle Hill area,” said Maureen Kapnis of Dube’s. “This is hard, especially for the elderly parishioners. They are heartbroken. In fact, everyone is. He’s part of our family.”
In some cases, word is out about where the pastors are going.
Sheridan, for example, will become the new pastor in Lakeville, Middleborough and Rochester in southeastern Massachusetts, one of the new collaboratives.
Murphy, who reached the retirement age of 75 last year, is moving to St. Mary’s in Cambridge, where he will be a senior priest in residence.
Parfienczyk has been assigned to Regina Cleri in Boston, where many senior priests reside.
As of Friday, plans for Dufour had not been announced.
If this is a time of parting, it is also a time for celebrations.
Immaculate Conception held events recently to mark Murphy’s 50th anniversary as a priest as well as his years in Salem. St. John the Baptist is holding a special Mass Saturday for “Father Stanley.” St. Anne’s has already held a party for Dufour, who will be saying farewells following Masses this weekend.
Sheridan’s official send-off was Sunday, the product of weeks of planning.
“It’s going to have laughter and it’s going to have tears,” St. James parish member Andrea Schwartz said a few days before the service.
Officials at the Archdiocese are sensitive to the emotions that accompany such a major transition. In fact, before arriving here, both Riley and Mahoney will go through a training session on the subject.
“Transitions are very important — both (priests’) transitions and the transitions the parishioners will be going through,” said the Rev. Paul Soper, director of the Archdiocese’s office of pastoral planning.
Some of the departing priests have tried to ease the transition. Both Murphy and Sheridan, for example, know Riley, the incoming Salem pastor, and have told parishioners how much they respect him.
“He was at North Dorchester and I was at South Dorchester,” said Sheridan. “We used to eat together at his rectory. That’s what allows me to say I have such confidence in him.”
Murphy, who is heading into retirement, tried to be philosophical about his departure. Although he has loved his time in Salem and been happy here, he understands that moving on is part of a priest’s life.
“I’ve been here a long time,” he said. “It’s probably time for me to move on. ... Maybe it’s time for a change, and time for the people, too.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton contributed to this article.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.