Jerry Fix: Disappointed by inaction on call to use Easthampton church property as shelter
EASTHAMPTON — Three years ago, in a Gazette guest column, I urged our parish, which was just consolidated from the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame and Immaculate Conception parishes, to donate at least one of our superfluous buildings to house homeless men, abused women needing safe passage or some other marginalized persons in our communities.
It would be a gift, with no financial or administrative obligations on the parish to rehabilitate or administer the ongoing supervision of those living there. Other agencies in the community are well qualified and equipped to undertake these responsibilities.
Three years later, after considerable conversations among parish leaders, we are no further along with this endeavor. Most members of the parish are undoubtedly unaware of this proposal. The discussions have been only among parish leaders and committees.
In fairness, I should say that one building was offered: the rectory at the former Sacred Heart parish. Though far from serviceable compared to other possibilities, the offer was contingent upon moving this building. This was a deal breaker for any interested party. The purported rationale for having to move the building is that it would interfere with the Our Lady of the Valley festival, a one day a year event.
A much more serviceable building, the former convent, is purportedly being reserved to archive parish history. One wonders what the deceased sisters whose lives were dedicated to the living would say about using their home to house the past while the living wander unsheltered.
A key rationale repeatedly heard in this long-delayed decision is that many parishioners are still grieving the loss of their former parish. Parishioners from Sacred Heart or Notre Dame would be further saddened to see one or two of the buildings they knew and loved given to shelter strangers.
No doubt there is some truth to this. All of us, including former Immaculate Conception parishioners, have a sense of grief at the changes foisted upon us more than three years ago.
But it is doubtful that this sense of loss compares to the pain and suffering now experienced by those men, women and children living in motels or tents or worse — children who are shuffled from school to school and shelter to shelter.
Our social ministry committee believes that most of Our Lady of the Valley parishioners, instead of still being burdened by grief and loss, would be happy to have some of the buildings our forebears labored to build converted into a decent and permanent home for those without one.
To know that the buildings our fathers and mothers in the faith sacrificed to build are now used to feed the hungry and house the homeless far outweighs any residue of grief. Happiness and joy — not mourning and sadness — that we have these gifts to offer others in need is the Easter message of the Gospel and the faith and teaching of those Catholics who originally built them, whether Polish, French or Irish.
In Luke’s Gospel record, chapter 18, when the rich, young ruler, who had kept all the rules and commandments, asked Jesus what else he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus’ message was clear and blunt: “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” Sadly, the man turned away and left since he had great possessions. Possessed by possessions! How sad.
Jesus, today in the guise of the “least of these,” is only asking our parish for one or two buildings.
What say all of us good Polish, French and Irish Catholics? And if you were the pastor, what would you do?
Our parish is surely mature enough by now to let its voice be heard on a subject so important to its mission and commitment to the Gospel.
Jerry Fix of Easthampton wrote on behalf of the Social Justice Committee of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Easthampton. Its members are Maureen Sheehan (chair), Ann Cauley, Margery Carenzo. Michael Biegner, Carol McClellan, Diane Kleber, Maureen Etchells, John Sheehan, Mary Hough and Hazel Dardano.