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  • “Love thy neighbor” is easier said than done.

    “Love thy neighbor” is easier said than done.

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  • Father Paul O’Brien, Parish Priest at Saint Patrick Parish, Lawrence, MA, lights candle at Easter Vigil

    Father Paul O’Brien, Parish Priest at Saint Patrick Parish, Lawrence, MA, lights candle at Easter Vigil

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  • Parishioner Elvys Guzman

    Parishioner Elvys Guzman

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  • Miguel Rosario, music director for Hispanic Apostolate, Saint Patrick Parish, Lawrence, Mass.

    Miguel Rosario, music director for Hispanic Apostolate, Saint Patrick Parish, Lawrence, Mass.

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  • Interior of Saint Patrick Church, Lawrence, Mass.

    Interior of Saint Patrick Church, Lawrence, Mass.

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  • Diane Jarvis, religious education director, and “Angel” search for homeless people in Lawrence, Mass.

    Diane Jarvis, religious education director, and “Angel” search for homeless people in Lawrence, Mass.

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  • Procession at Spanish Mass, Saint Patrick Parish, Lawrence, Mass.

    Procession at Spanish Mass, Saint Patrick Parish, Lawrence, Mass.

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  • Peggy Oliveto, volunteer at Cor Unum Meal Center

    Peggy Oliveto, volunteer at Cor Unum Meal Center

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  • Producer/Director James Rutenbeck

    Producer/Director James Rutenbeck

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The Film

Lawrence, Massachusetts is a New England textile town that was founded by Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Potato Famine. Subsequent waves of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Canada flooded in through the decades, providing labor for the wool mills scattered around town and earning Lawrence the nickname “Immigrant City.”

Today, the mills are closed and textile jobs have moved overseas, leaving Lawrence one of the poorest municipalities in the United States. The primarily Irish enclave of South Lawrence is aging as the younger generation leaves for better economic opportunities.

Still, Lawrence’s reputation as a welcoming place for newcomers has attracted another wave of immigrants: mostly younger people from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Their music fills the streets, their language is spoken in schools and churches, and their businesses are filling the previously shuttered storefronts of the economically stressed downtown.

James Rutenbeck’s film Scenes from a Parish looks at issues of community, tolerance and immigration from the perspective of a Catholic priest who is trying to hold his disparate congregation together.

Underpinning Scenes from a Parish is the idea of home and belonging, something deeper than simple matter of ethnicity. The film suggests that change can be unsettling — and even frightening — no matter what our histories or values might be. It may bring out the best or the worst in us, and prompts us to consider our better natures and how can overcome our fear of the unfamiliar.

The Filmmaker

  1. James RutenbeckDirector