Saint Mary's of the Assumption was, and continues to be, at the center of a heated debate between between church congregants hoping to protect and preserve it and the local Diocese, who merged Northampton church communities into one single Catholic parish-- Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton-- in 2010.
The church's congregants tried, and ultimately failed, to appeal Saint Mary's closure to the Vatican. Even after this failure, the fight within the church persists.
Saint Mary's of the Assumption
Photo courtesy of Daily Hampshire Gazette-- http://www.gazettenet.com/Parishioners-make-last-stand-against-sale-of-St-Mary-s-11334841
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Sacred Heart Church
Photo courtesy of http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/11/roman_catholic_diocese_of_spri_4.html
Saint Mary’s, one of the first Catholic churches in Northampton, was officially opened in 1885 (and closed in 2010). Because of the period of time in which the church was built, ample room for parking was not a concern. Now, well into the twenty-first century, it seems to be a different story.
Pictured : Deacon Bernard Fleury; Photo Courtesy of Sarah Crosby of the Daily Hampshire Gazette
One of the main voices in the fight to save the Church is Deacon Bernard Fleury, who argues that Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Sacred Heart Church, which is where former Saint Mary’s congregants now go to worship, has been just as, if not more so, costly of an endeavor to refurbish. Fleury also believes that, on possibly a more universally agreeable level, Sacred Heart would never be as beautiful, or even as historically significant, as Saint Mary’s. Fleury, and other supporters of Saint Mary’s preservation and reopening, believe that the parking issue could be easily solved. Apparently, before the Diocese even discussed switching the congregation to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the parking issue was already being discussed and even figured out.
Pictured : Reverend Francis Reilly; Photo Courtesy of Carol Lollis of the Daily Hampshire Gazette
Diocesan leaders believe that Saint Mary’s is inaccessible to many parishioners, and most specifically, because of its lack of parking spaces. On this side of the argument is Reverend Francis Reilly of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish. The Reverend believes, based off of certain calculations, that it is more economically feasible to repair Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Roughly $800,000 dollars were spent in pursuit of getting Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton into working order, and it was estimated that one million dollars would be needed for repairs on Saint Mary’s. Father Reilly agrees with Fleury’s sentiment regarding the church’s incredible beauty, but believes it really would not be possible to have the church reopened as a main branch of worship.
The buildings we live with surround us with a combination of stimulus and ease, of vibrancy and serenity, and their greatest gifts are conferred quietly, without our even knowing” (Goldberger, 155).
Reasons for preserving, and even simply continuing to use, historic places, can center around certain emotional attachments-- most specifically, their roles as visual references for memories. Memories are very closely tied to physical structures, and even closer tied to communal places with long, storied histories. Places such as churches not only serve as vessels of divinity, but also vessels of memory, human connection, and empathy.
In terms of the fight to preserve Saint Mary's, it makes complete sense as to why parishioners would be the ones to rally for its protection and longevity. These are people who have experienced, and have seen and heard of their families experience, pivotal moments of their lives in this church-- baptisms, first communions, weddings, funerals, and many other important religious events. Life cycles began and ended in this space. These moments and memories are deeply connected, and anchored to, this specific church. Saint Mary's is as much a part of these family histories as any specific relative. The space is a quasi-living symbol of the collective memories of families that have come in and out of the church.
The space is also, quite simply, an artifact and symbol of a specific religious tradition and time period. Saint Mary's serves a key player in the "religious canon" of Northampton. It is, more or less, an embodiment of the Roman Catholic experience in Northampton.
This fight to preserve and protect is not solely an intellectual pursuit, but rather one deeply invested in, and associated with, emotional attachment.
100th Anniversary of Saint Mary's at Look Memorial Park, c, 1966; Photo courtesy of Historic Northampton Archives
Confirmation Announcement, c. 1890; Photo courtesy of Historic Northampton Archives
First Communion, c. 1920s; Photo courtesy of Historic Northampton Archives
High School Graduation in Saint Mary's, c. 1974; Photo courtesy of Historic Northampton Archives
Contrada, Fred. “Parishioners of Closed Northampton's St. Mary of the Assumption Church Sue
City over New Ordinance.” Masslive.com, Masslive.com, 15 May 2012, www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/05/parishioners_of_closed_northam.html.
Drane, Amanda. “St. Mary's Remains at Heart of Church Consolidation Controversy .” Daily
Hampshire Gazette, Daily Hampshire Gazette, 25 July 2017,
Dwyer, Margaret Clifford. Centennial History of St. Mary of The Assumption Church,
Northampton, Massachusetts; 1866-1966. Custombook Inc., Ecclesiastical Color
Glaun, Dan. “Former St. Mary's Church in Northampton to Be Put up for Sale.” Masslive.com,
Masslive.com, 7 Dec. 2016,
Goldberger, Paul. Why Architecture Matters. Yale University Press, 2009. JSTOR,
Historic Northampton Archives
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