By Yadira Betances
---- — METHUEN — St. Lucy and St. Monica parishes will soon have a new leader.
Monsignor William Fay, a priest since 1974, will join the churches June 4. He will serve as pastor of St. Lucy and St. Monica and will work with a pastoral team made up of priests, deacons, lay ministers, and members of the pastoral and finance council of both parishes.
“It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to it. I see it as fulfilling my responsibility as a priest and pastor. I’m going to meet new people, deliver the same message and their faith would be an enrichment to my own,” said Fay, pastor of St. Columbkille in Brighton. “My focus is to listen, get to know the people, hear their hopes and listen to the ideas they have for the collaborative to build a stronger church community in Methuen.”
St. Lucy and St. Monica were among the first 12 parishes by the Archdiocese of Boston chosen under Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s plan to collapse 288 parishes into 135 collaboratives. He hopes his plan will address the shortage of priests while trying to encourage Catholics to return to the church.
The St. Lucy-St. Monica collaborative will come up with a pastoral plan to best address the needs of the churches. The reverends Patrick Armano, pastor of St. Monica, and Richard Burton, spiritual leader at St. Lucy, are waiting for their new assignments.
There are 28 parishes in the Archdiocese involved in this first phase of O’Malley’s plan. The Rev. Paul Soper, director of the Office of Pastoral Planning, said five pastors have been chosen for new assignments and the remaining seven will be named later.
“We’re naming them in small groups because this way is a less complicated process,” Soper said. “This is not just a job application, there’s a lot of prayer involved, discernment, and considering the needs of the parish.”
In Methuen, Soper said they were mindful of the growing Hispanic population and realized there would be a need for a Spanish-speaking priest. Fay studied in a Spanish immersion program in the Dominican Republic and is also fluent in Italian, which he learned while in seminary. Most of the members at St. Lucy are of Italian descent.
Fay, 63, was co-chair of the team that wrote the pastoral plan.
“His fellow priests and the archdiocese hold him in great regards,” Soper said. “Additionally, we wanted to make sure we had someone in this early phase who had an understanding of what was needed.”
Soper said the pastors will train between May and June before taking their new post. He said pastors will serve a six-year term.
For the past two weeks, Fay has visited St. Lucy and St. Monica and talked with Armano, Burton, parishioners, lay leaders and Sister Suzanne Fondini, principal at St. Monica School.
“The people were welcoming, hospitable and very much in love with their faith. It was a very uplifting visit,” the monsignor said.
Fay said most people were curious about the changes.
“I’ve reassured people that the change is not so much in their faith or how we celebrate the sacraments, but on what we need to do to bring people back to church,” he said.
Fay was a senior in high school when he considered becoming a priest after a nun at the school suggested it. He studied at St. John’s Seminary, Gregorian University in Rome, Pontifical North American College and earned a doctorate degree in philosophy at Catholic University of America. He was named a monsignior in 1996.
After his ordination, his first assignment was at the former St. Rita Parish in Haverhill for three years.
“It was wonderful parish. I didn’t know where the Merrimack Valley was, and I fell in love with it immediately,” Fay said. He said then-Pastor James Radochia, a priest for 30 years when Fay came to in Haverhill, was a mentor.
Fay, a Boston native, has another connection to the Merrimack Valley. Lawrence native, the Rev. James F. Degnan, who died Feb. 10, trained him as an altar server.