Log in
    

The future of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

The last Sunday Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington was on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, but there continues to be five daily Masses, confessions, First Friday Eucharistic Adoration with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and daily rosary there as well as ministry to the poor, the homeless and the addicted.
 
“At some point the cathedral will be merged” with St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish, said Father Lance W. Harlow, rector of both, noting that there has not been religious education at the cathedral since the 2010-2011 academic year, and there are no young families with children in the parish.
 
“The two parishes are not merged in a canonical sense. This is the process towards which we are working now,” Father Harlow said.
 
Parishioners of both parishes have been working cooperatively since the unexpected 2011 death of Msgr. Thomas Ball, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, when due to the shortage of priests, one rector had to take responsibility for both the cathedral and St. Joseph Co-Cathedral.
 
“We knew this was coming after Msgr. Ball’s death,” said Bill LaCroix, a member of the finance and parish councils at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “People are sad to see it go.”
 
The cathedral has been the “seat of the diocese, the bishop’s church, and there has been a lot of pride in that,” he said after a Jan. 22 regular Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
Father Harlow outlined three factors that contribute to the immanent merger.
 
The most critical factor is insufficient income from collections to pay bills. “We are running at almost $3,000 below what we need to collect every week. This is forcing us to take out money from our investment account to pay operating expenses resulting in a deficit, which increases about every three months,” he said. “It is like a snowball getting larger and larger as it rolls downhill. Because our attendance is so low, there is no way we can generate enough income to pay our bills. By merging with St. Joseph, we will be able to share resources.”
 
The low attendance reflects the situation of downtown Burlington. The area in which the cathedral is located is no longer a residential area; it has become more commercial. As a result, the family neighborhoods that were there in the 19th Century no longer exist.
 
Over the past 30 years Mass attendance has dropped by more than 1,000 parishioners, which is similarly reflected in other churches, Father Harlow said. In the past 10 years, there were many years in which there were no marriages or baptisms; even the number of funerals has declined.
 
The third contributing factor the rector noted is that when Mass schedules had to be altered six years ago because there were not enough priests to maintain the old schedule, parishioners would not make the changes and went to other churches or stopped attending. “We now live in an era where one is attached more to his or her Mass time than to his or her parish,” he said.
 
LaCroix, a lifelong parishioner of the cathedral parish, lamented that many cathedral parishioners attend Masses at other area churches.
 
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has 275 registered parishioners. “It has been very difficult to provide altar servers, lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion because of the ‘personnel’ shortage,” Father Harlow explained.
 
According to him, parishioners have reacted to the changes that have occurred and those to take place in a variety of ways: Some have related that they knew there were financial problems for many years, but were in denial about it. Others have said that they should not have built the current cathedral after the previous one burned down in 1972. Others would like to see it stay open, but have no viable means of providing income for it. Others for sentimental purposes would like to see it stay open, but do not attend any Masses there and have “no meaningful connection with the Church,” he said.
 
The plan for the future is to ask authorities in Rome for permission to merge Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with St. Joseph Co-Cathedral. “If that is accepted, then St. Joseph Co-Cathedral would be designated as the cathedral for the diocese,” Father Harlow said. “There is no current plan for the present [cathedral] building as we do not know how long the merger process will take.”
 
Any plan for keeping the building open must take into consideration that the bare minimum need just to pay insurance and utility bills is $85,000 a year—with no viable source of revenue, he continued. “In the meantime, we continue with our schedule with the knowledge that we cannot sustain it for much longer. It will close eventually, but there is no plan for the property as of yet until we have more information.”
Last modified onTuesday, 24 January 2017 12:33
Bishop's Fund Annual Appeal