In doubt – Landmark Pine Point church could close

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Dickie Collins and Jim Conroy can remember summer Sundays when people jammed so tightly into St. Jude’s on Pine Point that the overflow snaked out the door and over to the steeple out front.

Those were the summers after St. Jude’s opened in 1957 on Pine Point Road, when Canadian tourists swelled the population in Scarborough and filled St. Jude’s every weekend.

“There were so many cars, there used to be police here to direct traffic,” remembered Collins.

St. Jude’s Catholic Church has a long history of serving Pine Point residents and visitors during the summer, but as dwindling amounts of money and numbers of new priests and parishioners trigger Catholic church consolidations across Maine and the rest of the country, the future of St. Jude’s is far from certain. St. Jude’s could become a casualty of a complex reorganization of church parishes now under way.

In 2004, Bishop Richard Malone and the Catholic Diocese of Portland announced that Maine’s 135 parishes would be consolidated into 27 clusters. Cluster 22 now consists of Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland. Currently, the Rev. Msgr. Michael Henchal serves both St. Maximilian Kolbe in Scarborough and St. Bartholomew’s in Cape Elizabeth. The Rev. Michael Gendreau serves both South Portland churches, St. John the Evangelist and Holy Cross.

For a year, a cluster committee made up of parishioners, priests and administrators from all four churches met to create a recommendation for the Diocese. They had until June 2006 to create a plan to implement the parish reorganization. Over the summer, Henchal and Gendreau took over churches in South Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth and instituted a reduced Mass schedule.

On Oct. 3, Malone approved the committee’s plan, which called for two priests and four separate parishes, with one pastoral council. However, in a letter to the committee, he asked the members to consider whether two South Portland parishes and St. Jude’s, which is open only in the summer, are necessary. Additionally, he asked that the Mass schedule be further adjusted. Currently, many Masses are celebrated by retired priests. By June of 2007, wrote Malone, retired priests can celebrate no more than four Masses each per weekend.

For South Portland, said Bill Shulz, the director of Parish Planning for Evangelization for the Portland Diocese, not much would change if St. John the Evangelist and Holy Cross were to become one parish.

“It doesn’t change a lot of how they operate,” said Shulz. One parish would mean both churches’ finances would be handled by a single administration instead of two. The biggest difference, said Shulz, would be a new name for the parish.

“Some may experience a loss,” said Gendreau. “I think people would be disappointed, but I also think some would be excited about it. I have mixed feelings about it,” he added. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that each has a very unique identity. It will be a loss, but I can see the new life it would bring.”

Though neither South Portland church will need to close, St. Jude’s might not be so lucky.

“St. Jude’s truly is a question,” said Shulz. “We really are asking the local communities to make these decisions. We’re trying to make sure what remains is necessary.”

“The parish is considering the sale of the St. Jude’s property,” which is owned by St. Maximilian Kolbe, said John Plunkett, the pastoral council president. “The primary reason is in keeping with the guidelines or spirit of the overall clustering, and because it’s increasingly difficult to have priests available to serve at St. Jude’s in the summer months.”

On Sunday, Oct. 29, at 1 p.m., an informational meeting will be held on the church’s parish consolidation plan and how it would affect St. Jude’s Catholic Church. The meeting will be held at Engine 4 Fire Station at Pine Point, and the public is invited.

For a complete story on the possible church closings, see the Oct. 19 issue of the Current.

Dickie Collins, left, and Jim Conroy have both been parisioners at St. Jude’s since they were children growing up on Pine Point in Scarborough. Collins and Conroy remember the construction of St. Jude’s in 1957 and the addition of the steeple in the early 70s. The statue out front is one of the pieces of St. Jude’s history Collins hopes can be added to St. Maximilian Kolbe if the mission church closes.

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