Change is the only constant

Thursday 17 March 2016 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — St. Patrick’s Day

Today we celebrate a missionary bishop, the one we call “The Patrician” (Patricus). St. Patrick, as we all know, grew and organized the Church in Ireland. 

On this feast of St. Patrick, Evangelizer and Organizer, patron of our parish, I have been reflecting on the growth and organization of the Catholic Church in Falmouth. The Church in your area has its own unique history. It’s important. The past and the present combine to foretell the future. 

In the beginning, there was Corpus Christi Church, Sandwich. This wasn’t the first parish in what was to become the Diocese of Fall River. That would be St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford (now called St. Lawrence). Corpus Christi Church was, though, the first to have a resident pastor. 

Well, Corpus Christi Church opened a chapel, St. Joseph, in Woods Hole. This chapel eventually became the first Catholic parish in Falmouth. St. Joseph Parish established three chapels: St. Thomas at Falmouth Heights, Immaculate Conception in Megansett Village, and St. Patrick here in Falmouth Village.

Among these three missions, St. Thomas was the first to become a parish of its own (but not for long). St. Patrick was soon named a full parish and St. Thomas reverted to chapel status. The new parish of St. Patrick was not only given responsibility for St. Thomas Chapel but also the mission in Megansett. St. Joseph Cemetery likewise became the responsibility of St. Patrick Parish.  Are you following me? 

No? Allow me to summarize. At this point, we have St. Joseph Parish in Woods Hole and St. Patrick Parish in Falmouth Village. St. Patrick Parish has two missions and a cemetery; St. Joseph, none of the above. 

OK, then. Let’s proceed. In 1972, St. Anthony Parish, formerly a national parish (Portuguese-speaking), became a territorial parish (English-speaking). Parishioners of St. Patrick Parish living in that eastern part of Falmouth thereafter belonged to St. Anthony Church. 

The mission in Megansett, after reverting to Woods Hole, was eventually suppressed. In 1977, a brand new entity was constructed in North Falmouth on land formerly belonging to St. Joseph Parish. It was named in honor of St. Elizabeth Seton 

In 1984 a large parish complex (Christ the King) was built, not in Falmouth, but in Mashpee. It was located, though, just down the road from St. Elizabeth Seton Church. 

Now it gets complicated. The parish of St. John the Evangelist, Pocasset, which found itself without a resident pastor, was placed under the care of North Falmouth. Eventually, it was assigned its own resident pastor, as before.

The mother church of Falmouth, St. Joseph, was demoted to a parish without a resident pastor and then to a seasonal chapel under the care of North Falmouth.

And so we come to the present day. The oldest currently-operating parish in Falmouth is St. Patrick. St. Patrick is responsible for St. Joseph Cemetery. Other parishes in Falmouth include St. Elizabeth Seton in North Falmouth and St. Anthony in East Falmouth. There are two summer chapels — one in Woods Hole (under the care of St. Elizabeth Seton in North Falmouth) and one at Falmouth Heights (under the care of St. Patrick Church). St. Anthony has no missions but it does have a cemetery on the property. 

The assigned Catholic Chaplain of Falmouth Hospital was most recently the pastor of Woods Hole, but now there are two deacon-chaplains. The four priests currently assigned to Falmouth take turns being on emergency call at the hospital. The priests at St. Patrick spend the most hours on emergency hospital duty. They are also responsible for the largest number of nursing home beds. We average 100 emergency Anointings a year, but some years have close to 300.

You know me, dear readers; I am also fascinated by statistics. Here they are for 2014 (latest statistics available) in our quaint Cape Cod town, according to the 2015-2016 diocesan directory. 

Total Baptisms: 105. St. Anthony had 14. St. Elizabeth Seton had 34. St. Patrick had 57.

Total weddings: 168. St. Anthony had nine. St. Elizabeth Seton had 18. St. Patrick had 36.

Total funerals: 163. St. Elizabeth Seton had 34. St. Anthony had 71. St. Patrick had 58.

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I hear that the Diocese of Fall River is about to embark on an evaluation of current parish configurations. History and statistics will be critical. A parish self-evaluation tool is being created for use across the diocese. Stay tuned; there’s more to come.

The parishes in Falmouth underscore the philosophy that, as Heraclitus once said, “Change is the only constant.” Multiply this change by all the parishes in the Diocese of Fall River and it would be enough to give good St. Patrick himself a migraine. 

Be that as it may, I decided this year to especially honor our patron saint. We have a lovely hand-carved polychromatic wood statue of St. Patrick, but it was difficult to see. I moved it into its own newly-created niche and lit a candle at his shrine. (See photo below)

 “St. Patrick, Evangelizer and Organizer, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”  

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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