PROVIDENCE—Following more than a year of consultation among parishioners and parish leadership, a request to merge by St. Leo the Great and St. Cecilia parishes in Pawtucket has been approved by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.
The parishes will become Pope John Paul II Parish on July 1 with Father Michael Sisco serving as the new pastor.
In requesting the merger, Father Pierre Plante, pastor of St. Cecilia and Father Giacomo Capoverdi, administrator of St. Leo the Great, wrote: “… due to changing neighborhood demographics which are reducing the Catholic population and the problem of financial challenges burdening both parishes, a new combined parish will be much more solvent and effervescent for the future. ... A merger is the challenging, but practical answer.”
The parishes requested the merger so that they could combine their resources to strengthen parish ministries such as evangelization, services to the poor, religious education and maintain a strong Catholic school at St. Cecilia.
Financial challenges such as $900,000 in repairs to St. Cecilia Church and $600,000 of debt from the former St. Leo the Great School also contributed to the request to merge. Neither church building is expected to close in the immediate future.
In a letter to the pastors of St. Leo and St. Cecilia approving the requested merger, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin wrote: “The example of Pope John Paul II should inspire your parishioners to strive for holiness in their personal lives and renew their commitment to the new evangelization that was the goal of Pope John Paul’s life, a new evangelization that is surely needed again in our time and place.”
For more than a year, parishioners at both parishes have been meeting to discuss the merger. According to the pastors, regular updates on the merger discussion were made through parish bulletins and in pulpit announcements. Following the exhaustive consultative process, the pastors of St. Cecilia and St. Leo formally requested that the bishop allow for the parishes to merge.
Father Michael Sisco has served as assistant pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish and chaplain of Roger Williams University, Bristol, since 2008. He studied for the priesthood at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland and attended Roger Williams University and Providence College. Bishop Mulvee ordained him to the priesthood on June 14, 1997 in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence.
Father Sisco has also served as assistant pastor of St. Francis Xavier, East Providence and St. Agatha and Precious Blood, Woonsocket and as chaplain at Rhode Island Hospital.
St. Cecilia was established on August 17, 1910 to provide spiritual care for the rapidly growing French Canadian population that worshiped at Our Lady of Consolation.
When founded, St. Cecilia numbered 168 families. The first Mass was celebrated at Halliday’s Hall on Central Avenue and the first parish school was opened under the direction of the Religious Sisters of the Holy Union of the Sacred Hearts.
On May 11, 1924, Bishop William Hickey blessed the new church’s cornerstone. On August 30, 1925, the parish met for worship in the newly completed church basement.
Bishop Matthew Harkins established St. Leo in March of 1916 from parts of St. Joseph and Sacred Heart Parishes.
Like St. Cecilia, Halliday Hall on Central Avenue was used as a chapel until a church could be built.
Mass was celebrated for the first time in the basement of the current church building on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1916. On July 15, 1917, the new church was dedicated.