Letter to the Editor – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as seen from the rail trail.


Being a spiritual person and a cyclist, Lynn Shelley’s letter published May 27, and the Springfield Diocese’s decision to sue the Northampton Planning Board, saddens me. I think the church’s proximity to the rail trail is a huge asset. Connecting to it could enhance the church community in so many ways.

Ms. Shelley’s letter objects to the Planning Board’s requirement for a connection to the rail trail on spiritual grounds. I can appreciate her wariness of having non-attenders interrupt services and events. I wouldn’t want that either. The site will not be developed as currently configured. Buildings and parking are being relocated. Why not put the rail trail connection away from the buildings? Post signs that the parking is private.

But these concerns only take the rail trail as a burden to be suffered, rather than a unique opportunity which could enrich the parish community.

As a child, I attended youth events at my church by bike, on the road. Here in Northampton, we’ve provided the community with the means to travel to all sorts of places on a safe rail trail. I wonder if some of the parents of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton will be more likely to send their children to church events knowing they can travel by bike or walk. The church of my youth had a thriving youth program precisely because so many of us could get there on our own. I’d have to think twice about letting my children travel that stretch of King Street.

Might this connection to the rail trail become an asset to parish youth programs?

In my adult years, I continue to use my bike to travel to my faith community. I see many adults using the rail trail for exercise and to attend to errands. As Ms. Shelley notes, many attenders of the parish are elderly. Driving a car will not always be an option for them. Alternate means of transportation for elderly members could include walking and biking the rail trail, away from the traffic of King Street. Perhaps those who can no longer drive would appreciate the freedom that the rail trail affords them? What about current attenders who choose not to drive?

Could the rail trail provide a means for arriving at services for those who cannot, or choose not to drive?

I’m not Catholic, so I have not felt the pain of giving up a beloved worship space as parishes consolidate. But as Catholic Churches in Western Massachusetts are now regional, instead of neighborhood, places of worship, try thinking of a connection to the rail trail as a way to help worshipers be part of your community. I have faith that it can.


Gina M. Nortonsmith

Letter sent to the Editor of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA on May 29, 2011, in response to a letter by Lynn Shelley objecting to the requirement for a 15′ connection to the rail trail published the same day as a note in the paper’s ‘A Look Back’ column stating that 25 years ago then Mayor David Musante led a walking tour of what was to become the 1st section of the rail trail in Northampton. Published by the Gazette in an edited form, Monday, June 6, 2011.

Note: For more background on this story, see the Northampton Media article, Diocese Sues City Over Bike Path Access Requirement.


About Pedal Paradise

Cyclist, Mom, Travel Nut, Bike Riding Empower-er!
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7 Responses to Letter to the Editor – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

  1. Craig Della Penna says:

    It saddens me that the diocese has called in the same team of lawyers that defended pedophile priests, the same team of lawyers who fought the rail trail in Leeds until a moderate five figure sum was sent to the diocese in Spfld and now the same team of lawyers on this specious and nonsensical case.

    What I find amazing is the lack of talk about just how historic the rectory is. If you think the church is getting slapped because of their fight about connecting to the rail trail? Wait till you hear about the history of that house and the fellow who lived there. That will be coming out soon.

    • Craig,

      I find it interesting that the Diocese would go through the process of looking at which churches to close in Northampton, choose to keep this location open, then NOT think about putting in a connection to the rail trail! My goodness, the city has provided you with this great amenity for your community, and you don’t want to use it?

      Why not keep St. John Cantius on Hawley Street open if driving was the only consideration? That building has community space and parking, both private and street?

      It’s like choosing to build your business next to a highway off ramp, then saying you don’t want people coming off the highway to come there. Curious.


  2. I love this perspective – respectful of fears and anxieties and yet inviting people to care for one another. Thanks for writing this thoughtful letter.

    • Thank you, I appreciate that feedback. The published letter left out some of the text I thought went toward showing the connection as an asset to the parish. I know they edit letters for length, but I didn’t ramble.


  3. I also was saddened by this response by the Romans. I guess this group does not want people to attend or be a part of their services. Maybe they think they have to many people already clogging up their parking lot with big pieces of metal that spew out toxic fumes when the behemoths move. Perhaps we should just honor this request not to provide access from the rail trail to such groups that might not be compatible with the environmentally conscious and caring bicycle community. I am not condemning groups that call themselves a church. Just stating that this political entity known as the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton church, and by association in this lawsuit, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield seem to be going on record as opposing usage of their parking lot area for access to and from the bicycle trail.
    It saddens me that once again the Romans have put another obstacle between them and prospective parishioners. With the recent church building closings I can only conclude that the Romans have become a “us-only” club and are not interested in Christian Evangelistic efforts at all.
    This saddens me, but lately this has been a Roman view on a lot of things.
    I promise, however, when riding the trail, not to even glance over at this church building, nor it’s progress at building another structure for this “us-only” group.
    I also applaud the designers in requesting access to the trail from entities along the way that people might want to visit.
    Perhaps the notion that the people who oppose this access have is that a bicycle trail is only for recreational purposes. We found this thought to be prevalent when the bicycle and recreational trail was built in Springfield. There are only three real access points to the train and hence it pretty much goes nowhere. The Norwottuck Rail Trail, however, had access to shopping malls and other stores, and hence it also becomes a main means of transportation to and from these vendors and entities.
    My feeling is that the people in charge at the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton church group did not view the rail trail as an asset, but rather another expense and perhaps the real costs of building this structure are becoming more than they can easily handle.
    When CVS took over a pharmacy I used to visit exclusively, then closed it and opened a new on on State Street in Springfield I was shocked that CVS would not honor the city planners request to place the store at the sidewalk side and have their parking lot in back. So I boycotted the store. I hardly ever get anything there any more. My prescriptions are now filled by Walgreen’s, and they have a bicycle rack.
    True, they are also set back from the street, but I do not think Walgreen’s refused a city request to have the building near the sidewalk. Moreover, if I have two stores to buy from and one does have a place to secure your bicycle and the other does not; then I shop at the one that is bicycle friendly.
    Why would I have any different attitude when it comes to groups that call themselves a church. No bicycle accommodations, no frequenting by this cyclist.

  4. Another Comment.
    I took the time to look up St. Elizabeth Ann Seton at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Ann_Seton and read that she was someone who helped the poor and started the first schools for Roman Catholic children in the USA.
    Perhaps this church group does not understand that not everyone can afford $33,000 worth of metal for a transportation device. I can hardly afford what my bicycle cost.
    Maybe another meaning for this church group’s opposition to the rail-trail access is that they only want affluent parishioners. Those on bicycles can stay away.
    I know I will honor that unspoken request and stay away from their activities.

  5. Charlie,

    I can see your frustration from what you’ve written. I see it as the church’s being against being told what to do, rather than a function of what their church teaches. It is sad that they’ve made the choice to sue the city. It will cost everyone time and money, and gives the message that they don’t think anyone who cycles would want to be part of their parish. I think that view is short sighted and unfortunate.


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