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St. Joseph offerings are not enough to stave off merger

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PEPPERELL — The Nov. 9 St. Joseph parish craft fair fund-raiser went better than expected but it was only a drop in the long-range financial bucket that will determine the future of the parish as a stand-alone Catholic church.

Discussion with the vicar, Reverend Paul Ritt of North Chelmsford’s St. John’s parish regarding the future of the Pepperell parish were scheduled for late Wednesday, Nov. 19. At least it will not talk closure, business manager Debbie Lackey said Monday.

Options include staying open or merger with Sacred Heart-St. James parish of Groton.

“The craft fair did excellently, raising almost $6,000 after everything was paid out,” Lackey said.

Parishioners have been asked to increase their weekly giving by at least 50 percent, and in the past 10 weeks the average offertory has steadily increased from $3,163 to $5,711 (including All Souls and All Saints), according to Lackey’s records.

Average weekly parish expenses are $5,200. Although offerings exceeded that amount during the past three weeks (by $632 last week), there was a $3,409 shortfall in the $52,000 needed over the 10-week period. That averages out to a weekly $341 shortfall — or $17,391 per year.

Without the Grand Annual (Pepperell/Groton $30,000 annual appeal), the parish needs an additional $600 per week to break even. When combined with the weekly shortfall, St. Joseph parish is running nearly $1,000 in the red each week, or about $48,000 per year.

Lackey’s breakdown of envelope contributions shows a decline between Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 that probably reflect current poor economic conditions, or perhaps expenditure for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.

Envelope contributions (132 of 271 mailed out) totaled $4,614, averaging $35 per envelope on Nov. 2. The following week, contributions totaled $3,955, averaging $27 per envelope.

There had been one gift of $500, three of $250 and five of $100 to $150 on Nov. 2. The next week there was one gift of $150, three from $120 to $125, and two gifts of $100.

The possibility of merger was mentioned by Rev. Paul Ring two months ago if, he said, the offertory doesn’t increase and erase the need for the $7,000 received each month from the Boston Archdiocese.

“I’ve been sitting down with Better Concepts, a business that deals with increasing offertories, because our weekly collection in both Pepperell and Groton aren’t what’s needed,” he said, adding that receiving money from the archdiocese to pay the bills “can’t continue.”

An automated electronic withdrawal system is being set up whereby money is withdrawn from parishioner’s accounts as would occur with a bank’s automated bill-payer system. It began last spring and is being emphasized this fall.

“It’s not in place yet and some people don’t fully understand the concept,” Ring said in September, “but in that way people can rest assured their money is going to the church whether they are present or on vacation.”

St. Joseph’s Church sees an average of 400 parishioners in attendance each week but the Catholic population in Pepperell is much larger.

“I realize economics being what they are means things are tough all over,” Ring said. “What we need (in Pepperell) is for people to come home.”