Vigil goes on at St. Frances
By Ryan Bray | GateHouse Media | Apr 12, 2007
Photo by Robin Chan
Cass Fernandes, right, of Scituate and his wife Mary pray while Marian MacIssac goes through the Stations of the Cross during the Good Friday service at St. Frances of Cabrini.
Scituate - For the numerous parishioners at St. Frances of Cabrini in Scituate, last Sunday’s service was more than just a celebration of the Easter holiday. Instead, it was another bold declaration of faith from a community of people bound together by one common cause — to see their church reopened by the Archdiocese of Boston.
It was 2 1/2 years ago this April that parishioners made their first steps toward taking their church back from the archdiocese, which voted to close the church in October 2004. Within days of the announcement, parishioners began vigiling inside the church, gaining access to the building by way of an unlocked side door. Parishioners have since held regular lay-led services at the church every Sunday, all while taking turns sleeping inside and guarding the church every night.
“It seems obvious at this point that they’re just trying to wait us out, but we’re not budging,” said Jon Rogers, who along with his wife Maryellen have been instrumental in the parishioners’ ongoing fight to reverse the archdiocese’s decision. “All we want is our church and for our church leaders to be open and honest with us, but I guess they think we’re asking too much of them.”
The Easter celebration began with services on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. An estimated 200 churchgoers attended an Easter Sunday prayer service at the church, including Scituate residents Jim Clifford, 90, and Elise MacIssac, 89, who were instrumental in raising funds for the construction of the church in 1961. The service was followed by an Easter egg hunt held for the church’s younger parishioners.
“It all went very well,” said Rogers. “It really shows that the bedrock and foundation of our church community is still intact. I’m always in awe of our vigilers, both new and old, who are helping to keep our faith alive. It seems as though people are getting the message.”
While residents have slowly joined in support of the parishioners’ cause over time, the road toward reinstating the church has thus far been a long one with little end in sight. In January 2004, Archbishop Sean O'Malley stated his initial plans to close more than 80 parishes within the Boston Archdiocese, based on changes in demographics, a declining number of clergy and fiscal shortages within some of the churches. St. Frances parishioners have refuted the claims of financial troubles, saying their church was fiscally sound and well-attended.
Since O’Malley announced plans to close St. Frances, parishioners taken legal action, trying to reverse the decision in civil court and before the Vatican in Rome. Parishioners are currently appealing a Superior Court ruling to uphold the archdiocese’s decision, while a ruling on an appeal before the Vatican, known as an Apostolic Signatura, could be anywhere from days to months away, Rogers said.
“We’ve been told by our attorneys that it (Vatican decision) could be anywhere from a matter of days to sometime this summer or fall,” Rogers said. “But I have a feeling it will come sooner rather than later.”
Parishioners at St. Frances have made many sacrifices in their daily routines as they continue to fight the matter in court. But Rogers said it is a fight that must be fought to force what he sees as necessary changes within the archdiocese and the Catholic Church at large. The struggle, he said, is more than one of reopening a local church, but rather that of restoring the faith of the parishioners in the church, many of whom, Rogers included, feel as though they’ve been led astray by the numerous scandals and accusations of misconduct that have soured the church’s reputation in recent years.
“We need a real change in structure away from corruption and scandal,” Rogers said. “We’re tired of seeing the church in the headlines. We’ve always thought that our church leaders would be supportive and attentive to our needs, but we’ve come to find that that’s not true. We’ve found that all our thoughts and perceptions about what the Catholic Church represents and stands for have been erroneous. This whole process has really been a learning experience.”
Looking ahead, Rogers said he would like to see an appeal tried before a full jury, a measure he said may be the only way of coming to a fair resolution to the parishioners’ ongoing struggle to keep their church open.
“It would be an answer to an Easter prayer,” Rogers said of putting the appeal before a jury. “Is it likely? Anything’s possible. We should let the people decide on this, because this is ultimately about people.”
Despite the numerous ups and downs that have come along with the parishioners’ fight, Rogers said it has been worth every second for a chance at seeing St. Frances reopen one day. He said while it may not happen today, tomorrow or even a year or two form now, he believes that one day the church will reopen its doors to those who have faithfully stood behind it.
“We’re making historic steps,” he said. “I’m hopeful, cautiously optimistic, that we’ll see a favorable result.”