By Nancy Arsenault
For the past twelve years, the community of St. Isidore’s Parish was led by two pastors, Father Richard Butler and more recently, Father Dave Doucet. In the last thirty days, both priests have passed away. As Father Doucet’s condition worsened over the last year, St. Isidore’s experienced a succession of priests assigned to lead the congregation, many only staying a few months at a time. Today, the parish and parish leadership are looking toward a brighter future for this local congregation.
“I am well aware that St. Isidore’s has been through some hard times. There has been a lot of instability. But this does not mean, in any way, that St. Isidore’s is going away, or is headed for a merger,” said Father Walter Woods, pastor of Acton’s St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
Woods had been tapped by the Boston Archdiocese to help oversee St. Isidore’s during the transition periods that occurred during Father Doucet’s illness. This supervision continues now, as both churches are looking to share parish ministries and services; similar to the regionalization efforts that municipalities are considering . “The church and the parish in Stow is here to stay and I am here to care for this community the same as I have cared for St. Elizabeth’s,” said Woods of his stewardship in Acton for the past fifteen years.
Woods envisions a very bright and energetic future for Stow’s Catholic Church, and hopes that this message is traveling throughout the community, especially to those who may have been disheartened by the transient leadership the parish has endured. Woods will now be splitting his time and attention evenly between the Acton and Stow parishes as the Parochial Administrator, and Father John Swencki will serve as Parochial Vicar, while making his home in the Stow rectory. The two deacons already on staff, Charlie Cornell and Bob Brady, will remain a strong part of the ministerial team, said Woods.
A permanent pastor must still be named by the Archdiocese and Woods is hopeful that he will receive that nod. He believes that the Archdiocese’ vision to combine pastoral programs of the two churches is part of a long range view for the towns, and therefore, will most likely include the naming of Woods as pastor of the Stow church. “That appointment should be announced in the next two to three weeks,” he said. “If they ask me, I will accept.”
Woods, with the experience that comes from having developed and led very successful parish programs in Acton, plans to bring that same vibrancy and high level of participation to Stow. “I have four main priorities – the community, the Liturgy, Generations of Faith (religious education) and our teens,” said Woods.
His commitment to young people is very evident in Acton, where hundreds of youth participate in a series of four annual mission trips to places like Jamaica, inner city New Jersey and the poorest areas of the Gulf Coast. Already, the religious education program at St. Isidore’s, in conjunction with the youth ministry program at St. Elizabeth’s, is planning for a teen mission trip to Honduras this coming summer. This will be the first opportunity that Stow Catholic youth have had to participate in such mission trips, generating from their own Parish.
Father Woods has his own personal mission in mind for St. Isidore’s. “I want to communicate that I care for the community and for this parish. I will communicate by deeds and not just by words,” he said.
Parishoner Maggie Perreault said there is a new energy to the parish. “Father Walter has taken a very active role in our religious education program and already knows many of the kids by name, which allows children of all ages to connect with him. There is nothing better than eating pizza and talking football with your priest,” she said.
The new energy is also making an appearance in Father John Swencki’s services. “Father John has a wonderful way of taking the readings and breaking them down so everyone, even the kids sitting in the pews, get it. One of the first times we heard him speak, my kids turned to me and said ‘I didn’t know that’. It was wonderful to know that my kids were getting the sermons. I really feel that St. Isidore has been a given a gift with these new people and it will be up to the parish to use that gift and make the parish shine,” she concluded.