Chester Priest Quits Post, Cites Lingering Anger Over Merger The Rev. Joseph J. Quindlen Said Some Parishioners Blamed Him In Part For Their Parishes' Closing.

Posted: September 01, 1993

Two turbulent months after his appointment, the Rev. Joseph J. Quindlen has resigned as pastor of Blessed Katharine Drexel Church, the Roman Catholic parish cobbled together from Chester's six faded parishes.

In a weekend letter to parishioners, Father Quindlen said, "I am firmly convinced after these last two months as your founding pastor that I am unable to provide the kind of effective leadership that is presently needed at the newly established parish."

Jay Devine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said a replacement should be named within a week for Father Quindlen, who has been reassigned to St. Joseph Church in Cheltenham.

"We were extremely pleased with his role in the regional planning process and in getting the new parish started," Devine said. "But we concur with his own assessment of his leadership."

Father Quindlen said yesterday that his effectiveness at the consolidated parish was undermined because some parishioners considered him part of the problem, not part of the solution to the decline of the Catholic Church in Chester. Father Quindlen was pastor for four years at Resurrection of Our Lord, one of the merged parishes, and served for two years on the archdiocesan planning committee that recommended the citywide consolidation.

"It's simply that my previous associations became a divisive issue," he said. "How could I lead effectively, having been part of what was? . . . I knew we were going to have to deal with my baggage. The archdiocese knew it, too."

A 52 percent decline in Chester's Catholic population during the last two decades led Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua in March to announce that six parishes - Resurrection, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Michael's, St. Hedwig's, St. Anthony's and St. Robert's - would be consolidated at the site of St. Robert's on the city's north side. Father Quindlen was handpicked to lead the combined flock, named Blessed Katharine Drexel.

To ease the transition, Cardinal Bevilacqua said worship services would continue at Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony's for one year and at St. Hedwig's for two years, but the archdiocese would no longer recognize these churches as separate entities.

Opposition to the merger was particularly fierce at St. Hedwig's, a predominantly Polish parish, and St. Anthony's, a predominantly Italian parish.

Through public protests and letters to the cardinal and even the Pope, the ethnic parishes have insisted that they are financially stable and independently viable.

Father Quindlen's installation as founding pastor was marred on June 27 when 100 faithful from St. Hedwig's and St. Anthony's demonstrated outside Blessed Katharine Drexel.

A group called the Committee to Save St. Hedwig's also publishes and distributes its own Sunday bulletin, rather than accept the version from Blessed Katharine Drexel.

Father Quindlen's resignation was seen as a Pyrrhic victory by Sam Durbano, chairman of the Committee to Save St. Hedwig's.

"Some people are probably delighted because he was a spearhead of this (consolidation) process," Durbano said. "But I don't consider this a victory for any of the suppressed parishes because another priest will simply be appointed to replace him."

Father Quindlen said it was "possible" he would be replaced by one of three assistant pastors assigned to Blessed Katharine Drexel.

No matter who takes over, only the grace of God may pull the new parish together. Weekend Mass attendance at Blessed Katharine Drexel and the three transitional worship sites is down to about 1,200, Father Quindlen said. (The archdiocese counts 7,500 Catholics in Chester, compared with 18,700 in 1973.)

And Durbano said the St. Hedwig's opposition committee planned more rallies and protests.

"We love a challenge," Durbano said. "We'll never give up."

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