SOUTHBRIDGE, Mass. (EWTN News) — Faithful from St. Mary, St. Hedwig and Notre Dame Churches gathered to celebrate Sunday Mass together at the new Blessed John Paul II Parish on July 3.

“It became a bit of a homecoming,” said Father Peter Joyce, the pastor of the new parish, in a July 5 interview with EWTN News. “All these people on any given Sunday worshipped in different places, even though we worshipped as Catholics. Now we are all together.”

The new parish will be based at Notre Dame Church, though Father Joyce plans to utilize the other church buildings for weddings and daily Mass.

The merger of the three parishes was proposed after months of public meetings between parish representatives. It came about in response to concerns that the 1,700-person town was not able to sustain three local parishes, particularly given a shortage of priests.

At the meetings, parish representatives pooled together information about the liturgical, devotional, financial and social aspects of their respective communities.

“We were looking at both the vibrancy and the vitality of the community as a whole,” Worcester Diocese spokesman Raymond Delisle said on July 5.

He explained that the parishes involved in the recent merger, and other similar moves, were originally built to serve ethnic communities that experienced language barriers and were not mobile, often working and living within a few blocks of the parish.

“The parish served their needs,” Delisle said. “But mobility issues are not the same today.”

Delisle said the merger is a response to the “very different” needs of second- and third-generation parishioners.

“We’re recognizing needs from this point on, rather than just continuing something just because it was done that way 50 or even 100 years ago,” Delisle said, noting that mergers of this kind are fairly common.

“The changes in the social fabric of our communities demand changes in our parishes to meet new needs, new challenges and, most especially, new opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” wrote Bishop Robert McManus of the Diocese of Worcester in a May 2011 letter to parishioners.

The challenge will be tapping into “the energy and ability of so much greater talent and resources,” without losing the “intimacy” of a smaller parish, Father Joyce said.

“No change is easy,” he noted. “While there’s sorrow in what we lost, there’s also enthusiasm.”