By John Lynds
The Boston Archdiocese announced last weekend that one of East Boston’s most popular parish priests would be relocated to Dedham, causing an uproar throughout the community.
Father Wayne Belschner, the head priest at Sacred Heart Parish, has become a popular fixture throughout the community as an educator, social activists, and community leader.
Father Wayne, as he is known throughout Eastie, spearheaded a period of healing in the neighborhood after the Archdiocese closed several churches in Eastie. He spent years relocating parishioners from the closed churches and was able to build a solid Catholic Community at Sacred Heart after the closings of St. Mary’s, the Assumption and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“It was announced this past weekend,” said the Archdiocese in a statement. “Cardinal Sean (O’Malley) has appointed Fr. Wayne Belschner as administrator of St. Mary Parish, Dedham, effective August 15, 2016. Fr. Belschner has done very good work in East Boston. The Cardinal is asking Father to take this assignment out of recognition of his many pastoral and administrative gifts. Those gifts are now needed in another part of the Diocese. This is very common among Diocesan Priests to be asked to serve in other parishes.”
The news set off a firestorm of protest from a majority of Catholics and non-Catholics alike that respect the work that Father Wayne does in the community outside of normal parish duties.
Almost immediately, Elizabeth Constantino, started an online petition at www.change.org and by Tuesday it had 951 signatures.
“Father Wayne Has breathed new life back into our community,” said Constantino. “We need him here, in East Boston, now, more than ever. Father Wayne is beloved by all who know him; from the youth, to the elderly and everyone in between. Father Wayne knows his community well and serves it with passion and goes above and beyond for anyone in need.”
Sacred Heart Parishioner, former State Representative Carlo Basile, who is now Chief Secretary to Governor Charlie Baker and close personal friend of Father Wayne immediately wrote a letter to the Archdiocese
“I am writing today to ask the Cardinal to reconsider the transfer and allow Father Wayne to stay with us in East Boston,” wrote Basile. “It is imperative that Father Wayne remains in East Boston.”
Basile wrote that Father Wayne has been an important part of the Church community as well as the civic community for years.
“He came to East Boston at a most volatile time,”wrote Basile. “The clergy sex-abuse scandal had hit a couple of the Churches in a particular way. He was a figure that people looked to for guidance and trust. When the Churches were closing in Eastie, Father Wayne was out in front by welcoming people to Sacred Heart and made the parish into a family. Despite the protesters at Mount Carmel, Father Wayne immediately established an Italian Mass. The faithful of Mt. Carmel came and eventually he won over the hearts of many of the protesters.”
Basile said the neighborhood and Archdiocese was grateful to the efforts of Father Wayne because he brought calm and peace to the neighborhoods of East Boston.
“When St. Mary’s School closed, it was Father Wayne again who took the initiative and opened the doors to the students and their families,” wrote Basile. “He has been the only constant that the people of East Boston have had. In the times of turmoil, city, state, and local officials have gone to Father Wayne and in each case he made a definitive impact. It is his presence that has inspired me to send my children to East Boston Central Catholic School.”
Basile and others also pointed out Father Wayne’s work top combat street violence among youth and has been working hard to address the growing rate of opioid addiction in the neighborhood and partnered with the East Boston Drug Court and Meridian House.
“He has organized with the police department an initiative to curb street violence and to combat the rising threat of gang activity in Eastie,” wrote Basile. “He is currently working with Judge MacDonald at the East Boston Court to bring resources and awareness to the local opioid epidemic that is gripping our community. Just this weekend, he has coordinated efforts to bring together police, judicial, medical personnel along with those in recovery to make a presentation in the Church hall regarding this matter. He has become a voice for those in recovery at the court run drug rehab house here in Eastie called the Meridian House. Every Sunday, the residents are in Church and on a weekly basis seek his counsel.”
Others throughout the Eastie community have taken to Facebook, Twitter, the online petition, and hundreds of emails to elected officials and the Archdiocese to urge the Cardinal to reverse his decision.
“I would respectfully request that the Archdiocese allow Father Wayne to remain our pastor,” said Liane Sherman. “He comforted me when my parish St. Mary’s Star of the Sea closed and brought me back to the church. He reaches out beyond the church and goes into the community to people in need. He has created a loving and caring parish and makes us all better people. He guides us and reaches out to the people of Meridian House. In light of our opioid epidemic, his presence at Sacred Heart is needed more than ever. He has created a successful self sustaining parish which would suffer in his absence.”
Even residents from outside of Father Wayne’s parish respect the work he has done for all of Eastie.
“I’m not a member of his parish, but Father Wayne is a pastor, guide, and watchman for all of East Boston,” said Steve Holt. “He has built a ministry here over many years of fighting for families and for social justice that would take as long or longer for his replacement to do. His leaving would create a huge vacuum in this neighborhood. Let him stay.”
Sacred Heart Parish Priest, Father Wayne Belschner during one of the many vigils he has held in East Boston to address addiction, violence and other social problems that affect the quality of life for resident throughout all of East Boston. Father Wayne has been asked to relocate to Dedham.