Jack Farrell: Easthampton parish’s heart in the right place
EASTHAMPTON — As a parishioner of Our Lady of the Valley in Easthampton, I read with interest the guest column by Jerry Fix on June 11 urging the church to donate one of the buildings of the former parishes that were combined to form the new one.
While I commend the general thrust of his argument, I found myself thinking that to an outsider, his column might leave an impression that the parish is rather cold-hearted or selfish. On the contrary, the parish runs, or has run, a cot shelter program in the basement of the church, administered or in some way connected to the social justice committee, which claims Fix as a member.
And there may be good reasons for not donating a building to provide homeless people a shelter. Three years ago, Our Lady of the Valley was formed by the merger of three parishes, Immaculate Conception, Notre Dame du Bon Conseil and Sacred Heart. The parish is now centered at the Immaculate Conception location on Adams Street.
At the former Notre Dame parish, a day care is now in operation — in the former school, I think — so I would imagine parents might feel uneasy about a homeless shelter next door in the rectory or the church. Homelessness, is, after all, a result of a lack of work, but also often a combination of social or mental health problems.
At the former Sacred Heart, the school is used for religious education classes Sundays. Classes are held on the upper two floors, and the basement is used as a coffee shop for parents to hang out in while their kids are in class.
And as for the convent there, which Fix says Our Lady of the Valley wants to use to “archive parish history,” that seems like a good idea, no?
Three parishes have merged into one, and with that, a combination of hundreds of years of records (assuming this is what would be archived). Anyone who’s ever gotten married in a different parish than the one they were baptized or confirmed in knows the importance of having those records remain accessible.
There may be other issues: Is any social service agency actually looking for a building? Would there be some sort of zoning hurdle to clear? Would the city be amenable to such a plan? Are there enough homeless in the Hamptons to fill such a place?
Or would the shelter bring in homeless from other areas?
The social justice committee has done good work in raising awareness about various challenges to us as a society — I remember attending a talk arranged by the group years ago featuring a local psychotherapist anticipating a wave of soldiers with PTSD returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, well before it became an everyday topic — and the committee will likely continue to push us to be conscious of such issues.
Fix surely knows more about the parish than I do — I’m lucky if I make it to church on time without spilling coffee on myself — but I worry that his column will paint an unfair portrait of Our Lady of the Valley and invite knee-jerk condemnation. Some criticisms of the church are justified, certainly; on the Our Lady of the Valley and the homeless issue, I’m thinking not: it’s a warm parish, and it seems like its heart is in the right place.
Jack Farrell lives in Conway.