HAVERHILL — Unless one knew about it, there was no evidence yesterday that St. John the Baptist Church was enduring the sudden resignation of its pastor, the Rev. Keith LeBlanc.
The temporary administrator, the Rev. Paul Coughlin, told The Eagle-Tribune that Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, may name a new pastor within two months.
The Riverside parish celebrated its 55-year anniversary with a well-attended cookout and carnival on the church grounds. The dunk tank was a particularly popular activity that raised more than $400, according to a soaking wet Deacon Thomas Anthony. For $1 a throw, parishioners could sink Anthony or fellow Knights of Columbus Bill Vlahos and David Broderick.
Several minutes before the 10:30 a.m. Mass, Coughlin greeted the volunteers who were preparing food and setting up for the cookout. Coughlin was accompanied by his cocker spaniel, Bob.
LeBlanc, who had led St. John the Baptist Church since 2003, suddenly resigned June 18. According to the Archdiocese of Boston, the state Attorney General's Office and Haverhill police are investigating financial improprieties.
Parishioners were shocked and saddened by LeBlanc's sudden departure. The archdiocese has so far not provided many details, except to say LeBlanc is receiving "pastoral care."
During his homily, Coughlin used yesterday's Gospel reading, Luke 9:51-62, to teach that Christians cannot get hung up on the past. When a man told Jesus he had to bury his father before he could follow him, he said, "Let the dead bury the dead."
Indeed, Coughlin said he didn't have time to say goodbye to parishioners at St. John the Baptist Church in Peabody, where he was the parochial vicar, or assistant pastor. When he received the assignment to go to Haverhill, he had to pack his bags immediately.
"Time heals most wounds," he said in the homily.
Coughlin, who was brought up in Dorchester, in St. Peter and St. Gregory parishes, was ordained 19 years ago at age 27. After graduating from Catholic Memorial High School in Boston, he went right to St. John Seminary in Brighton, which used to confer bachelor's degrees.