Diocese welcomes service of two religious communities

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PROVIDENCE — Members of two religious communities are coming to the diocese in the next several weeks to assist with the oversight of two parish ministries in great need of assistance.

In Bristol, where the longtime bilingual Portuguese- and English-speaking assistant pastor will soon be returning to his native Portugal, there is no one available in the diocese to replace his ability to connect with the parishioners in this way.

So to help the traditionally Portuguese parish meet its unique needs, a priest from the North American Province of the Company of Saint Paul, a Secular Institute, will minister to parishioners of the church in the languages with which they are most comfortable conversing in.

Meanwhile, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, a Society of Apostolic Life, will assume leadership, under diocesan direction, of St. Mary Parish on Broadway. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, comprised of both priests and seminarians, is dedicated to the celebration of the sacramental and liturgical rites as they were observed prior to the Second Vatican Council, and will offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. Mary’s.

Both communities will serve in their respective parishes for a six-year term.

“We’re very pleased to welcome these new religious communities into the diocese,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said in an interview Monday with Rhode Island Catholic.

He noted that as the number of diocesan priests continues to shrink the diocese will have to be increasingly open to the presence and ministry of other religious communities serving the needs of the faithful.

“We do so not just out of a sense of necessity, but because their presence really enriches the pastoral and liturgical life of the church. So we need to be open to that and encouraging of that. It will be a gift for our church,” Bishop Tobin said.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans has been working with the leadership of both parishes as well as with the diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning over the last several months to help ensure the faith communities can continue to thrive amid the challenges they face.

Bishop Evans said that one of the priests in the diocese who serves as pastor of a Portuguese national parish brought the existence of the Company of Saint Paul to their attention, which led to an inquiry about the possibility of receive some of their assistance in the Diocese of Providence.

“We came to the happy conclusion that a priest who is from Brazil and is now in Canada is available to assume the pastoral care of one of our parishes,” Bishop Evans said.

Father Marinaldo Batista, CSP, is expected to arrive at St. Elizabeth around mid-July.

“We believe that this transition to a new pastor will be very smooth,” Bishop Evans said. “And another advantage to this relationship is the possibility of additional priests from the Company of Saint Paul coming to the Diocese of Providence in the years ahead.”

The offer of assistance was especially timely as the six-year term of Father Richard Narciso, pastor of Saint Elizabeth, Bristol, was scheduled to conclude on July 1, and Father Narciso, who does not speak Portuguese fluently, had indicated that he did not wish to be reappointed as pastor.

“I have some Portuguese ability but my Portuguese is not sufficient for me to be there alone, so the diocese, in her concern for her people, and for the people of St. Elizabeth Parish, has sought out a priest from a religious community who is able to serve the needs of both the English-speaking people and the Portuguese-speaking people,” Father Narciso said in a recent interview with Rhode Island Catholic.

“I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to have served the people of St. Elizabeth Parish as their pastor. This is best for the parish,” he said.

At St. Mary’s Church on Broadway, changing demographics has led to the re-evaluation of the pastoral structure there, according to Msgr. Raymond Bastia, diocesan Vicar of Finance, who works closely with the Office of Pastoral Planning.

“The reason that the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is coming to St. Mary is that parish has lost a lot of parishioners and it needs help. We’re striving to keep it open and vibrant, and this is an opportunity that came about to us. The future we hope for is that this will be a vibrant parish with a full-time pastor,” Msgr. Bastia said.

Father Francesco Francese, who currently serves as pastor of both St. Mary and Holy Ghost Parishes, will instead minister full time to his parishioners at Holy Ghost. He will remain pastor of Holy Ghost where Masses will continue to be offered every weekend in English, Spanish and Italian.

“St. Mary’s Parish had both a grammar school and a high school in its history. This is how different it is now,” Msgr. Bastia said of the church, which is all that remains of the grand parish and school structure that once existed there. It’s the evolution of the parish to this point. It does have its areas of financial burdens. The neighborhood is not what it used to be so the church has had some financial stress.”

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which already ministers in the Diocese of Manchester New Hampshire, is looking to establish themselves locally using the traditional forms of worship that they embrace, he said.

The particular charism of the FSSP is to celebrate the liturgy of the church according to the liturgical books in force in 1962; while, they will continue all the necessary ministries offered in parishes, such as religious education, sacramental preparation, hospital and healthcare facility visitations, etc.

“They are looking, by their own admission, to establish a presence here in Southern New England and this church has a particular appeal to them because of its great beauty and tradition. It would be easily adaptable for their purposes,” Msgr. Bastia said.

For Father Francese, the ability for him to minister full time to one city parish is tempered by his impending departure from a parish he has great admiration for.

“I love St. Mary parish, I’ve been through a lot with the people there. It was an honor for me to be named a pastor for the first time there, and also at Holy Ghost too. I am hopeful about the future,” Father Francese said.

Rebecca Page Perez, who oversees the Office of Pastoral Planning, said the introduction of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at St. Mary could signal a turning point in the flight of parishioners from the city parish through the years by offering them a new way to worship that is experienced in only a few parishes across the diocese.

“In pastoral planning that’s what we’re looking for. In evangelization it’s opening the door to strengthen the community and to help it grow in the faith,” she said.