Gardner, Massachusetts’ Mission Street Church buys St. Joseph Catholic Church

Gardner, Massachusetts’ Mission Street Church buys St. Joseph Catholic Church

[Another Catholic parish in the Worcester diocese (similar to that in other dioceses) closed because of declining church attendance and sold to a Prot church looking for larger quarters because of increasing membership (including how many former Catholics?)! – AQ Tim] 

GARDNER — Mission Street Congregational Church has bought the former St. Joseph Church on Pleasant Street with hopes to move in by late fall.

The Roman Catholic church had only been on the market a short time when the large building was purchased for use by the Mission Street Church for $450,000. Mission Street, which has been in Gardner since the late 1800s and has been in the same building since 1913, has been seeing some growth and needed the larger building.

“Mission Street currently has a capacity of about 84 people. In terms of regular attendance the average is about 75 on a Sunday,” Pastor David Bodanza said. “We have even more people that are either members or attendees that want to come, but it becomes uncomfortable packing them in, since we are close to capacity.”

St. Joseph’s Church had been out of service for about two years by the time Mission Street bought it, but it had only recently been put on the market.

The Mission Street members then stopped by to check out the building.

“We’ve been looking to do something for about two years. … We didn’t think about Pleasant Street until someone mentioned St. Joseph, and that was September of 2017,” Bodanza said. “We went immediately and looked at St. Joseph’s and thought it was a match made in heaven.”

The fact that the Mission Street church is not up-to-date with building codes also factored into the decision.

“The other issue is the bathrooms where we are now are not compliant with code,” Bodanza said. “We have no children’s rooms, but we have a lot of young families. There are a lot of people in their twenties so one of the reasons for the move is to accommodate them as well.”

The new building will have room for children as well as the addition of an elevator. Mission Street initially planned to just expand its own building but it was not possible because of the church’s small lot.

“We hope that we will be there in the late fall. We have some renovations to do. One of the major renovations would be the installation of a three-stop elevator so that anyone who has challenges with mobility can access all the floors,” Bodanza said. “We have a lot of painting to do and we need some new carpets.”

Renovations are expected to cost about $100,000.

For members of the original St. Joseph’s Parish the loss of the church is painful, but the Rev. Stephen Lundrigan, pastor for Annunciation Parish, the merged Gardner Catholic community that owned St. Joseph’s, says that the community is happy that the building was sold to another group that will use it for worship.

“We are very happy that the church was able to be used again for the worship of God and did not wind up either left unused or having to be destroyed for a parking lot or something,” Rev. Lundrigan said.

Annunciation Parish has seen a decline in churchgoers, and before Rev. Lundrigan had gotten to Annunciation, it was decided that both the Sacred Heart Church and St. Joseph’s Church would be sold. The Sacred Heart sale is still in the works.

“Church attendance in general was at a peak in this country in the late ’50s across denominations, the percentage of people who attended church was high even for the years before that,” Rev. Lundrigan said. “Now, church attendance is comparable to the level in the 1930s. Gardner’s manufacturing industry had many immigrants come in that worked in the factories and they were very church-going. Societally, church attendance has come down. Also there are shifts just in the percentage of Catholics where other parts of the country they are building new churches because population is shifting that way.”

Despite some churches losing members, Mission Street hopes to continue to gain members to fill their new space.

“We really love Gardner and want to help people,” Pastor Bodanza said “and this will be a facility for that, and the people seem to be getting really excited about it.”

Mission Street Church was founded in 1894 as a community outreach to Finnish residents in Gardner. The church remained Finnish-speaking until 1962, becoming more inclusive to other Gardner residents.

“I’ve been here for five years. We were down to 20 people, but we have just seen steady growth since 2013 to the point where we don’t have enough space,” Bodanza said. “The church is thriving and growing, and we want to continue that pattern.”

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