By Bronislaus B. Kush
WORCESTER TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
Church shuts, pastor retires
WORCESTER— Ascension Church — though founded in 1911 as an offshoot of St. John Parish to predominantly serve Irish immigrants living on Vernon Hill — has drawn a hodgepodge of worshippers from various working class ethnic groups.
Just ask the Rev. Joseph A. Adamo.
As the church’s pastor over the last several years, Rev. Adamo has picked up snippets of French, Polish and many other languages spoken by his parishioners.
But Rev. Adamo, who is of Italian descent, never even gave a thought to the idea that he’d ever hear a word of Tagalog, one of the native languages of the Philippines.
However, that all changed about five years ago when Filipino families from all around Central Massachusetts began to call Ascension their spiritual home.
Interestingly, Rev. Adamo said he believes, with just a little more time, his little church, which overlooks busy Kelley Square, might have been saved by the growing Filipino population within the Ascension community.
“My heart was broken when the bishop announced that Ascension would be closing,” said Rev. Adamo, a priest for 35 years. “I really thought we had turned the corner as more and more Filipino families joined our parish. But it was not to be.”
Five Catholic congregations, including Ascension, will be shuttered July 1 as a result of dwindling parish populations, a shortage of diocesan priests, and other factors.
Ascension parishioners will celebrate their long history and heritage with a closing Mass at 2 p.m. June 29. A reception will follow.
Congregants will also toast Rev. Adamo, who has decided to retire with the closing of his church.
“I’ve had a good life (as a priest) but now it’s time to call it quits,” said Rev. Adamo, who plans to live at the Southgate complex in Shrewsbury, where other retired clergy reside.
Rev. Adamo was born and raised in Watertown.
He said he considered many career options including design and architecture, teaching, and counseling.
“But deep down I had always wanted to be a priest,” said Rev. Adamo. “I wasn’t pushed into by my family. It was just something I wanted to do. I’d always admired priests because of their willingness to help others and because they were so close to God.”
He said his family wasn’t overly religious but regularly attended services at St. Patrick Church, the only surviving Catholic parish of four that were originally established in Watertown.
Rev. Adamo, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Niagara University, began his priestly studies at Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in Albany, N.Y., and finished up work for his theological degree at Catholic University.
He was ordained a priest, along with 14 others, by Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan on Dec. 8, 1973, at St. Patrick Church in Northbridge.
“It’s amazing that we had so many ordained that day,” said Rev. Adamo. “There’s no simple answer as to why young men don’t want to become priests today. People look at you funny, if you say you’re considering the priesthood. Today’s society is just so humanistic and materialistic.”
Rev. Adamo said he believes individuals were more idealistic in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Kids were lining up to join the Peace Corps and people were protesting the war in Vietnam,” he said. “Individuals back then were willing to take a stand. They were willing to give of themselves.”
Rev. Adamo said he chose to become a priest for the Diocese of Worcester rather than the Archdiocese of Boston because Bishop Flanagan had a reputation for being a progressive.
“That appealed to me,” he said. “Bishop Flanagan was very forward thinking.”
Rev. Adamo said he was first assigned to Christ the King Church, Pleasant Street, which, at the time, had three priests.
“I stayed there for six years,” he said. “Back then, that was the maximum length of time you served at a particular church before the bishop transferred you. Today, because of so few vocations, many priests stay for many, many years at one parish.”
Rev. Adamo’s next posting was at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, where he served as chaplain.
“Campus ministry is a job you either love or hate,” said Rev. Adamo, who holds a master’s degree of education after studying counseling at Suffolk University in Boston. “You’re either gone in a year or you stay for 20 years.”
Rev. Adamo, who also taught courses in gerontology and about death and dying at Mount Wachusett, as well as at Anna Maria and Assumption colleges, said he found the assignment appealing because he had the chance to work with many people at the “crossroads of their life.”
“You have to be creative in reaching out to these individuals,” he explained. “I counseled people who were considering making significant changes in their lives. They included veterans coming back from the war and women, who were single parents looking to get into job force for the first time.”
Fourteen years ago, Rev. Adamo left Mount Wachusett and became pastor of Ascension.
“Even back then, the parish was struggling (with membership),” he said, noting that older members were dying while other parishioners moved away. “The problem with Vernon Hill is that many people don’t live there very long. On a given day, you can see moving vans all over the place.”
He said hope for the parish grew, however, as Filipinos, many of them from Shrewsbury and Holden, began worshipping at Ascension.
“They were looking for a place where there was a sense of family,” he said. “They just weren’t comfortable in some of the bigger churches like St. Mary’s (in Shrewsbury).”
Under Rev. Adamo’s tutelage, the interior of the church plant received an $80,000 facelift. He also successfully led a drive to build a 36-unit housing complex for senior citizens near the church.
“A priest’s job is to bring people to Christ and there’s a wonderful satisfaction when you do that,” said Rev. Adamo. “A priest really can make a difference in someone’s life.”