Editor’s Note: With the blending of the two Catholic parishes in Littleton and Westford in December, WestfordCAT engaged Debbie Rhodes, director of stewardship and development for the Blessed Trinity Parish, to give a bird’s eye view on how the two parishes are gelling and operating as one parish. Here, Rhodes, together with Pastoral Associate Sue Gormley, responds to a list of questions provided by WestfordCAT.
*I’m interested in hearing how the parish is doing since St. Anne and St. Catherine came together.
We have now merged into one Parish – Blessed Trinity Parish – with two worship sites: St. Anne Church and St. Catherine of Alexandria Church. Another big change is that instead of a Pastor and an Associate Priest, our two priests (Rev. Peter F. Quinn and Rev. Joseph M. Rossi) are now a team ministry.
Parishioners were asked to nominate names for the new Parish, and then vote on the suggested names. The top three choices were submitted to Cardinal Sean O’Malley to make the final selection. One of the reasons that Blessed Trinity was chosen as a name is that the three persons of the Blessed Trinity: God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit each have their own area of specialization, but work together seamlessly, as equals, for the good of all people. This is a model that we strive to emulate in our faith community, where members of both St. Anne and St. Catherine are welcomed, respected, and invited to become active in our many ministries. We are happy to report that this has been happening throughout the pandemic.
Our Reopening Committee was a good example of this. It was composed of staff and non-staff, men and women, St. Anne parishioners and St. Catherine parishioners, scientists, medical personnel, and people of many other occupations. This group was formed to tackle the myriad logistics of adhering to State and Archdiocese COVID 19 protocols, to keep our churches sanitized and safe, to register parishioners for Masses, to welcome them and seat them. The group was instrumental in working with the many volunteers necessary to conduct outdoor Masses last summer and fall and to do all that was necessary for us to resume indoor worship. They also coordinated beautifully with our Liturgy Committee so that our liturgies have been beautiful prayerful experiences.
A new ministry was also formed, out of necessity, during the pandemic – our AV Ministry. It began as one person who knew how to operate lights, sound, and camera, who filmed our Masses when the churches were closed and made them available through YouTube and links to our website and has grown to include a team of about 8 people who work together to live stream Saturday 4 pm Masses, First Communions, Confirmations, and funerals.
How did everyone do during the pandemic?
It was extremely difficult for the few months where the buildings were closed and staff was, for the most part working from home. We were especially concerned for parishioners who live alone or who are elderly. We had to stop home and nursing home visits, which increased our concern.
Last summer, 2020, we were able to celebrate weekly Masses at St. Anne’s in the parking lot, as well as celebrating outdoor First Communions and Confirmation. As restrictions eased, we slowly began the process of holding in-person Masses indoors at both churches. It was unfortunate during that heavily restricted time that other sacraments that were celebrated (baptisms, weddings, funerals) had capacity limitations. This was especially difficult with funerals where only immediate family could be present, so we live streamed many funerals enabling other family members to attend virtually. Other celebrations, such as weddings had to be postponed.
During the month of December 2020, both Father Peter Quinn and Father Joe Rossi had COVID and were in quarantine, so we were unable to celebrate Christmas Masses in-person. We did record a Christmas Mass that was shown on our YouTube Channel.
The Reopening Committee met frequently during the pandemic. They monitored the situation with the State and with the Archdiocese of Boston to ensure we were following all guidelines. This was a tremendous effort on their part.
This year for Ash Wednesday, we filmed a prayer service and provided take home kits with prayer cards and ashes that had been blessed so that families could watch the prayer service together and apply the ashes to each other’s foreheads. This provided a great teaching opportunity for parents, and we received some very positive feedback from parishioners.
During the pandemic, we found many ways to continue parishioner engagement. When the churches were closed back in March 2020, we began recording Mass and the rosary, then gradually we moved to live streaming our Saturday 4 p.m. Mass, which we will continue doing to serve those who are not able to attend Mass for many reasons, such as being sick or homebound or in a nursing home, people traveling for work or vacation or family members residing in different locations who like to attend Mass together virtually. The live stream Masses are available on our YouTube channel (Blessed Trinity Parish).
We really missed having in-person faith formation classes during the pandemic and we applaud our faith formation team for providing content to parents so that they could catechize their children at home, for enabling Confirmation program catechists to conduct classes using virtual meeting platforms and to find ways to safely participate in Works of Mercy projects.
We have been utilizing email on a twice-weekly basis to keep parishioners informed. Besides just providing news, these emails contain engaging content like interviews, “Ask A Priest” answers to questions submitted by parishioners, reflections, and great videos to help parishioners learn about our faith.
We are also active with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flocknote, a new parish app, and a new website. COVID gave us a big nudge to enhance our social media presence. This was one of the few benefits of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, our music ministry put together some amazing virtual ensembles including vocalists and instrumentalists of all ages. During the Easter season, families, instrumentalists, and our priests all had great fun taking part in the creation of a video set to the tune of Jesus Christ Is Risen Today. All of these can be found if you look through our videos on our YouTube Channel.
We had a parish picnic at the end of June as a “welcome back” gathering. It was wonderful to finally have a social event with no restrictions.
This Sunday, July 25 at the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Catherine, we will celebrate the first ever World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
On Jan. 31, 2021, Pope Francis announced a new celebration in honor of all grandparents and the elderly, who are so important to our faith communities and our Church. This new World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated every year on the fourth Sunday in July, this year falling on July 25. Contrary to what many grandparents and elderly think, in his May 31 letter, Pope Francis reminds us that “… at every hour of the day (cf. Mt 20:1-16) and in every season of life, he (God) continues to send laborers into his vineyard and he used himself as an example. At an age when many are retired, (76), Pope Frances was elected Pope, the bishop of Rome and the shepherd of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
Just as in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Pope Francis, in his May 31, 2021 letter, tells grandparents and the elderly that these words are also addressed to us today. They help us better understand that our vocation is to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young, and to care for the little ones. Think about it: what is our vocation today, at our age? To preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones. Never forget this.
Other events are in the planning stages, and we are moving slowly toward getting all programs and groups up and running.
What challenges is the parish facing?
There are many people who still do not feel comfortable attending in-person Masses. There are many reasons for this, and some people will need to continue to avoid crowds for health reasons. We completely understand those issues and that is why we will continue to live stream Mass each Saturday.
But for some people, they may not have the underlying health issues, but they are very hesitant to come back indoors. Over the past year we’ve all witnessed the power of our online world – but we’ve also seen its limitations. We appreciate more what it means to have a place where we can worship together and support each other as a community.
We have been reaching out in many ways, like the social media efforts we outlined. We also have a group of volunteers who are working through the entire parishioner list of 3,850 families and reaching out by phone to check-in with everyone. We also brought back the “Landings” program, where Catholics who have been away from the Church can explore their faith and future within the Church in a supportive and confidential setting.
We want people to know our doors are open and, when they are ready to come back, they are welcome at Blessed Trinity Parish. We also want them to know that Father Peter and Father Joe are available to speak with, especially if there is anything keeping a person away from growing in the spiritual life and developing a deeper relationship with Christ and His Church.
Are parishioners still doing the work of St. Vincent de Paul?
Yes! And now that we have merged, we have two distinct and active St. Vincent de Paul Conferences. Both groups continue to offer person-to-person services to the needy and suffering in our communities. Beneficiaries do not need to be parishioners of Blessed Trinity (or Catholic) to receive confidential assistance. St. Vincent de Paul Littleton serves residents of Littleton and Ayer. And St. Vincent de Paul Westford serves residents of Ashby, Groton, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend, and Westford. Additionally, there is a Youth St. Vincent de Paul program providing an opportunity for younger parishioners to take action in their community.
Our current Mass scheduled is:
Saturday: 4 p.m., St. Catherine Westford
Sunday: 8:30 a.m., St. Anne Littleton
10:30 a.m. St. Catherine Westford
Weekdays 8 a.m. Monday and Tuesday St. Anne / Thursday and Friday, St. Catherine.
Debbie Rhodes, Director of Stewardship
Sue Gormley, Pastoral Associate