WEST WARWICK — Facing declining Mass attendance, the oldest Catholic Church in the state will merge this summer with one of its nearby counterparts, the Rhode Island Catholic Diocese of Providence announced Monday.

“In an effort to provide for the ongoing pastoral care of the parishioners” of each location, St. Mary’s Parish, located on Church Street, and SS. John and James Parish, on Washington Street, will effectively merge July 1, the Diocese of Providence said in a press release. 

Quietly situated on a hillside in Crompton, St. Mary’s Church has a rich history in Rhode Island. It was established in 1850 — before the founding of the Diocese of Providence — following an influx of English and Irish Catholic immigrants who’d come to the Pawtuxet Valley to work in the local textile industry.  

The decision to merge the two parishes was made “following a thorough pastoral planning process” that stemmed from a steady decline in Mass attendance and sacramental practice at St. Mary’s. According to the Diocese of Providence, attendance at Masses there has been below the benchmark used for parish viability, with around 150 parishioners attending each weekend.

Between 2014 and 2018, the parish has hosted just 10 weddings and 39 baptisms, and 36 children over those four years received First Holy Communion.

The merger comes just as Rev. Douglas Spina, pastor of St. Mary Parish, prepares to step into retirement. The Diocese of Providence called that another “significant factor” in the decision to merge. 

Rev. Nicholas Fleming, who since 2016 has served as assistant pastor at SS. John and Paul Church in Coventry, will serve as pastor for both West Warwick faith communities, effective next month. 

The St. Mary’s building, the oldest Catholic Church building still in use in the diocese, will continue to be used for liturgical celebrations, and all of the parish’s sacramental records will be transferred to the rectory office of SS. John and James Parish.

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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