By Mike LaBella
HAVERHILL — As parishioners at Sacred Hearts Parish continue to pray for their pastor, the Rev. Robert Conole, the Boston Archdiocese has named the Rev. John Delaney of St. Michael Parish in North Andover as full-time administrator of Sacred Hearts. Delaney, who has been at St. Michael for 12 years, is scheduled to begin his new assignment the week after Easter.
"He has done a great job at St. Michael's, but we have a need for full-time pastoral presence at Sacred Hearts," said Boston Archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon.
He said the transfer will also relieve the Rev. Timothy Kearney of having to oversee two parishes. Kearney, pastor of All Saints Parish, has been serving as temporary administrator for Sacred Hearts in Conole's absence.
Conole has been on leave from his duties as pastor of Sacred Hearts Parish since May 2011. Church officials have refused to say why Conole had taken leave.
The Sacred Hearts Parish bulletin dated Dec. 25 included an update on Conole that said his family was happy to report he was recovering from surgery. Earlier this month, Kearney said Conole's condition was getting steadily better after surgery on a cerebral hemorrhage and that he was working very hard with his physical therapists.
Donilon would not discuss whether he expects Conole to return to Sacred Hearts, but that Cardinal Sean O'Malley felt it was important to have a full-time administrator at the parish.
Donilon said Delaney will have the full powers of a pastor and will oversee every aspect of the parish, including religious education and celebrating Masses.
The Rev. Ben LeTran will continue to serve as parochial vicar at Sacred Hearts, Donilon said.
Masses at Sacred Hearts Church and at St. Patrick Church in Groveland, which merged with Sacred Hearts in 2007, will continue to be celebrated by LeTran and the Revs. Arnold Kelley and John Leonard, priests who are semi-retired.
"Father Kearney has been doing a great job, but based on input from him and others we felt that it is important to have full-time pastoral leadership at Sacred Hearts," Donilon said.
St. Michael, the largest parish in the Archdiocese of Boston with 5,100 families, is also losing its pastor, the Rev. Paul Keyes. Keyes, 75, recently announced he is stepping down. Diocesan rules require priests to retire from active ministry after age of 70, and Keyes has been suffering from Parkinson's disease since 2004.
Donilon said a search for a new pastor for St. Michael has begun.
"They've done a remarkable job growing the parish and Father Delaney has been central to part of that," Donilon said.
He said the Archdiocese is going through a "discernment" process, which he described as a review in which information is gathered from the parish and from priest advisors as to who would be the best person to continue Keyes' work.
"The cardinal will then appoint someone from the ministry who can carry on the great work that has already begun at St. Michael's," Donilon said. "That priest will be walking into a great situation. I don't think we'll have any shortage of priests who may want to be pastor there."
Donilon said pastors being at the same parish for 20 years is unusual today and is no longer the norm.
"We have a need in Haverhill to have someone there full time," he said of Sacred Hearts. "Father Delaney will be going to a very impressive parish."
"We could not continue to ask Father Kearney to continue what he was doing. It's not fair under the current model of how we run our parishes to keep doing this,'' Donilon said. "Plus, the parish had a jolt with Father Conole and his illness. We want the parish to feel a sense of stability, which is what a lot of this is about."
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