The call came in early Sunday morning that Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in New Bedford, a pillar for the SouthCoast's Polish-American community, would be closing in a matter of eight weeks.

My main tie-in there was the late former New Bedford Mayor Fred Kalisz. Every Polish festival or food sale, Kalisz would remind me of all the delicious handmade Polish dishes for sale, like the pierogis, golabkis and garajkis. I never heard of a garajki, so Fred told me, "Phil, you pronounce it like garage-key, and it opens the garage door."

The news in the Sunday, December 12 church bulletin was not so lighthearted.

"The bulletin basically told us this was the end of an era, and that the church would be closing for good at the end of January, 2022," said Pat Kalisz, Fred's wife, who believes a shortage of priests played into the decision.

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The bulletin included a decree from Bishop Edgar da Cunha that explained that a group had convened to discuss "parish history, the current state of ministries and engagement overall," Bishop da Cunha wrote. He said it was determined that the parish would close.

"This was a very difficult decision and was based primarily on diminishing participation at Mass and the spiritual ministries that are our core missions as followers of Jesus," da Cunha wrote.

The Polish-American parish, formed in 1905, will be split up.

"It's heartbreaking for us and especially the older parishioners who've worked so hard to cook for the fundraisers and volunteer for all the festivities," Kalisz said. "It's also a loss for the community in general."

Our Lady of Perpetual Help was the former mayor's home parish all his life.

"Fred worked tirelessly to keep the church open, getting whatever was needed. He would be devastated to find out that it's closing this quickly," Kalisz said. "The saddest part of this is a few bad apples made the Catholic Church look bad and it hasn't been able to recover from it. It's a sorrowful statement to say that you can't get anyone to join the priesthood. Hopefully, it will turn around."

That turnaround is critical. It's been suggested for the Catholic Church to start allowing its future priests to marry. Coming from the son of a Greek Orthodox priest, it's a sound recommendation.

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