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Parishioners mobilize to save Shoreham Catholic Church

PARISHIONERS OF ST. Genevieve Catholic Church in Shoreham are expanding the congregation’s mission in an effort to persuade the Burlington Diocese to keep their place of worship open. Volunteers are filling up a church annex with warm winter clothes for folks in need, including local migrant farmworkers.

SHOREHAM — A group of St. Genevieve Catholic Church parishioners are infusing new energy and offerings at their place of worship — including food and clothing charities for those in need — in an effort to convince the Burlington Diocese to keep it open.
Christopher Coyne, bishop of the Burlington Catholic Diocese, is scheduled to recommend on Nov. 26 whether the 142-year-old St. Genevieve church should remain open or be closed, and potentially be razed.
He’ll make his recommendation to the diocese’s Presbyteral Council, which will advise him in making a final decision that will likely come in December, according to Father Luke Austin.
Father Austin leads the congregations of St. Mary’s Church in Middlebury, St. Bernadette in Bridport and St. Genevieve.
St. Genevieve is being tabbed for potential closure due to needed repairs and waning attendance — issues that churches throughout the state and Northeast have been confronting due to declining participation in organized religion.
St. Genevieve once hosted its own priest, but has for several years been relegated to one Saturday 7:30 p.m. mass per week, during the months of May through October. St. Bernadette — a smaller and more energy efficient building — hosts Catholic functions for the parish during the colder months of November through April.
Longtime St. Genevieve members hope the latest October services at the church won’t end up being their last. Randall and Kathleen Brisson are among those longtime members.
Randall is a U.S. Navy veteran and became the third generation of his family to attend the church. The tradition began with Randall’s grandfather Wilfred, a Canadian immigrant and a World War I veteran. Randall’s father, Robert, was also an altar server at St. Genevieve’s and went on to serve in World War II.
“Randall and I have raised a fourth generation of Catholic Brissons and continue to belong to and support St. Genevieve’s Catholic Church,” Kathleen Brisson wrote in an Oct. 3 letter to Coyne urging him to keep the church open.
The couple and around 25 other supporters have formed a St. Genevieve task force to re-energize the local Catholic community to once again make the church a hub for spiritual, humanitarian and recreational events. Here’s a sampling of what they’ve introduced at the church within the past month:
• Rosary prayer gatherings on Mondays at 6:30 p.m.
• A food drive for the non-profit organization Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects.
• An effort to gather warm clothing for local migrant workers who will be toiling this winter at local dairy farms.
• A toy drive for the HOPE Holiday Shop, which provides gifts for children from low-income homes who otherwise might not have anything to open on Christmas.
Supporters believe the nurturing of a philanthropic arm of the church will be critical in getting new, younger members to join the St. Genevieve flock.
“The way to draw in youth is showing them we are doing things,” Brisson said during a recent interview. “They want to see our actions.”
• A special mass held this past Saturday for migrant workers. That mass, featuring an ecumenical choir, drew more than 70 worshippers, according to Brisson. Around 10 of the attendees were members of the migrant farmworkers’ community, a population that church leaders believe will be key in revitalizing St. Genevieve.
“With active participation, we could boost our offerings to our large migrant-worker population, on farms in Shoreham and Bridport specifically,” Brisson wrote in her letter to Coyne. “This population is underserved by the Catholic Church and measures should be taken to include and incorporate their needs into our outreach ministry efforts.”
Other ideas in the works: Periodic youth and family events; bake sales; organizing the parish hall into a meeting/events space; and offering monthly meals, occasional Spanish language services and transportation for migrant farmworkers.
Brisson and fellow parishioner Terry Douglas also want Shoreham-based Catholics to rediscover their local church. Some attendees have stopped attending mass, while others have been attending services at other Catholic churches. The current 7:30 p.m. Saturday masses at St. Genevieve aren’t convenient for all local Catholics, supporters confirmed. The mass is held at that hour because Austin must travel in from Middlebury after having led an earlier service at St. Mary’s.
Increased participation isn’t the only thing St. Genevieve needs. The 143-year-old building needs major renovations, including an estimated $14,000 to repair rotting foundation supports, $5,000-$30,000 to stabilize the choir loft, $90,000 to replace the stained glass windows, and an as-yet undetermined amount for exterior painting.
Former parishioners would return with better outreach and perhaps an earlier Saturday mass time, Brisson believes.
“There’s a big need for keeping these rural churches open,” she said during a recent interview.
“We have a lot of elderly people in the village who need to be served by the church.”
Shoreham resident Terry Douglas has been a St. Genevieve parishioner since 1975, and currently serves on the local parish council.
“We’re really working hard to convince the bishop, Father Luke and parishioners that we need to be a more vibrant (church),” Douglas said. “We’re trying to do different activities that will help the community and give us more participation in our church, other than just going to mass.”
They key, according to Douglas, will be to show the latest enthusiasm in the church has staying power.
“Hopefully this momentum for vibrancy will continue,” she said. “It’s not just for now, it’s for the future. We need to continue this momentum, to be an active parish and not just sit back and see what happens.”
Father Austin agreed.
“I think the bishop is open to looking at what the potential is here and the need to see increased energy,” he said. “The question is going to be, is it going to continue beyond a kind of ‘Save our building’ campaign?” And if it is going to continue, how can we best direct that to build up the community there?”Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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