St. Charles Church parishioners prepare for final events

St. Charles Church parishioners prepare for final events

St. Charles Borromeo Church will close in January. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – After 173 years of serving the faithful on Daniels Street, St. Charles Borromeo Church is closing its doors for good.

The news, long expected by parishioners, became official on Monday when the Diocese of Providence announced the church would close after Masses on Jan. 12. The announcement cited declining attendance and a potential $572,000 in building repairs as factors in Bishop Thomas Tobin's decision to close the church.

The closing is difficult for longtime parishioners who’ve spent much of their lives dedicated to the upkeep of the historic church. Wayne Kilcline and his wife, Becky, have served as music directors at the parish since 1998. Kilcline described how he, his father and his children were all baptized at the parish after his grandfather first moved to the area many years ago.

“I always thought when it came down to it, its history and architecture might be enough to save it,” he said.

The church opened in 1846 as the first Catholic church in the city. In 1868, construction began on a new building designed by Patrick Keely, the famous Irish-American architect who designed the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence and St. Mary Church in Newport. Over the years, the church became a cornerstone of city life, paying tribute to its Irish-American roots with feast days and special events.

In 2016, after the retirement of the Rev. Gerald Finnegan, the church began sharing a pastor and many of its programs with All Saints Parish. Since then, said Kilcline, parish life has been on the decline. Parish attendance, already decreasing, dropped to just 90 families, and fewer parishioners volunteered to organize events.

“The parish function seemed to stop at that point. We would have the corned beef dinner, we would have the St. Charles Borromeo feast day, we would have a parish bazaar, and little by little those things dropped off,” he said.

In September, the parish trustees, led by the Rev. Joseph Upton, sent a formal letter to the diocese requesting the church close in January. This week, Tobin granted that request, noting the decision came about following a lengthy process that including consulting with diocesan staff.

Not all of the parishioners are ready to give up their church. Richard Monteiro, who has attended St. Charles for the past 38 years, said he and some other parishioners weren’t satisfied with how the decision was reached. In September, he sent a letter to Tobin detailing the reasons he believed the church should stay open.

“With your support and blessing, and the support and assistance of the services available through your office, options and programs cannot only sustain this church, but it can incorporate the growth of new Catholics that are moving to and residing in Woonsocket,” he wrote.

The group has since hired a lawyer who specializes in fighting church closures to argue their case with the diocese. Monteiro said he hopes the effort presents the feelings and belief of the congregation as a whole.

In the meantime, preparations are underway for a final round of parish events. On Dec. 15 at 2 p.m., the church will hold its final Christmas concert, a longtime tradition that’s open to the public. Far from a half-hearted celebration, Kilcline said the concert will be a meaningful event featuring the church’s volunteer choir and guests from the Providence Youth Classical Guitar Ensemble.

“We said, if we’re going to do this concert, we’re going to decorate the church, we’re going to go all out,” he said.

On Sunday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m., the church will host a tour of the building to give the public an opportunity to learn about the art and architecture of St. Charles. On Nov. 24, they'll hold an ecumenical prayer service at 3 p.m., and on Nov. 28, they’ll host Thanksgiving Day Mass at 9 a.m.

Upton, who has served as pastor of St. Charles since July, told The Breeze the process has been difficult for everyone.

“A parish closure is like a death, and death is understandably accompanied by disbelief, anger, blame and, of course, grief,” he said. “I know that the parish leadership, some of whom have ties to St. Charles going back three or four generations, made this decision with very heavy hearts."

The closure could also have an impact on neighboring All Saints. In a message to parishioners on Nov. 10, Upton said the sister parish may have to consider a “yoking” collaboration with another parish after St. Charles closes. All Saints, he said, is also dealing with financial considerations, as well as a decline in attendance and the possible relocation of the parish’s Spanish-speaking community.

A 1917 photo shows men of the parish gathered outside the building on Daniels Street.