NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — In January 2022, parochial oversight of St. Mary’s Church and Priory in New Haven will return to the Archdiocese of Hartford. The announcement was made Tuesday.

The church has been run by the Dominican Friars of the Province of Saint Joseph for 135 years.

The change comes as a response to the request of the Archbishop of Hartford, who is currently working on a reconfiguration of the Catholic churches in New Haven, according to a press release from Fr. Jordan Lenaghan Tuesday.

“After more than a century of service to the people of Saint Mary’s Church, surrendering the parish to the Archdiocese is disappointing,” said Very Reverend Kenneth Letoile OP, prior provincial of the Dominican Province of Saint Joseph. “Though we would have liked to continue serving in the Archdiocese of Hartford, the pastoral ministries we accept must not only be of benefit to the local church but must also allow us to live fully our form of religious life and to serve in ways which allow our charism to flourish.”

The Archdiocese of Hartford released a statement Tuesday that read, in part:

“It became clear early on that the facilities at St. Mary’s are uniquely suited as the center of a municipal model of pastoral care with several priests living together and serving the ten city churches. This will necessitate the Dominican fathers vacating the priory building, which though owned by the archdiocese, has traditional and emotional significance to the Dominicans”

Father Paul Walker has served at St. Mary’s for six years. He said, “It’s been a great joy and blessing in my life, and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability — all the way until our last day here…Those of us on the parish staff will receive a new assignment from our superior when the time comes.”

But, he added, he knows it will be a bittersweet transition: “Several [parisioners] have already reached out to tell me how much they value and appreciate what we’ve been able to do in serving them.”

St. Mary’s Church is where the funerals for New Haven Firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr. and New Haven Police Officer Joshua Castellano were held. The friars leaving St. Mary’s will not impact the services celebrated there.

Parishioners we spoke with after mass Tuesday say they’re still processing this news. They say the Dominican Friars will be greatly missed.

Florette Pursell of New Haven said, “The heart the Dominicans put into the mass — it felt different, you felt closer to God when you were there.”

David Lobo of Woodbridge added, “They brought our faith to life, and they were very much a part of our lives, not just on Sundays. It’s going to be major, major big shoes to fill to keep up the good work they’ve been doing all these years.”

Fr. Lenaghan said friars will continue to minister in the local area. Friars remain working for the Knights of Columbus, Albertus Magnus College, and Quinnipiac University. They will also continue providing chaplains for the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace in Guilford.