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Keeping the faith, doggedly

BELLA ENGLISH | The Boston Globe | April 16, 2006

Parishioners at Star of the Sea in Squantum are the kind of Catholics the hierarchy might love -- devout, conservative, of the ''pay, pray, and obey" variety. When the Archdiocese of Boston closed their church, they did not go into vigil or file a civil lawsuit. Still, they did their best to change the archdiocese's decision, forming a Friends committee, holding press conferences, and asking, time and again, for a meeting or at least some correspondence with the archdiocese.

No one answered -- until they hired a married priest to say Mass last year. When word got out, Bishop Richard Lennon, the architect of the church closings, could not rush to his phone fast enough to tell Maureen Mazrimas that her church was way out of canonical line.

Before hiring the married priest, Mazrimas, cochairwoman of Friends of Star of the Sea, had asked the archdiocese for special dispensation to allow a priest in good standing to say Mass in a non-Catholic venue; a sympathetic Congregational church had offered space. Nothing doing, said the archdiocese.

A year later, Star of the Sea will celebrate Easter Mass in its own building, and that is progress. But even though the archdiocese reopened the church last summer as a chapel, all is not rosy in Squantum. The one weekly Mass it is allowed is at noon on Sunday; there are no baptisms, weddings, or funerals; no religious education classes; no Holy Week services this year. For those, parishioners must travel to Sacred Heart in Quincy.

Other churches that have been designated as chapels are allowed weddings, baptisms, and funerals, Mazrimas said. As a real estate broker, she often has open houses between 1 and 3 p.m. Sundays, so noon Mass is difficult for her. Some of the elderly and parents of young children have complained about the timing of Mass, and the dearth of sacraments and socials at their home church.

These self-described conservative Catholics have raised $5,500 of the $6,000 needed to appeal their closing to the Vatican -- money that Mazrimas said could have gone to church causes instead of to lawyers.

A spectrum of people have contributed to the legal fund, from the elderly who want to be buried out of their parish to young couples who want their children in their neighborhood religious education program. One parent told Mazrimas that she remains a devout Catholic, but the archdiocese's actions have made it difficult to be a ''charitable, forgiving person."

''If the young people are turned off, what does that say for the future of the church?" asked Mazrimas, who is 60.

She knows the archdiocesan argument -- that a church is more than a building, that faith is built on a stronger foundation than bricks and stained-glass windows. (By the way, Star of the Sea's stained-glass windows, along with its stations of the cross and organ, are now residing at a church in Dover.) But she also knows that so many of life's milestones for a Catholic are intrinsically tied to a particular church. ''Matchings, hatchings, and dispatchings," as she puts it -- weddings, baptisms, and funerals.

Mazrimas raised her three children at Star of the Sea, where they were baptized and made their First Communion and confirmation. Her daughter was married there. One day, Mazrimas hopes to be buried out of there.

''The building in and of itself has no significance," she said. ''But what happens in that building does. It's a place where you share life's moments."

Next month marks two years since Star of the Sea was officially suppressed. On this holiest day of the Christian calendar, a time of renewal and rebirth, its parishioners are still praying that the church they love somehow will be reborn.

Farther down the South Shore, St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate is about to mark its 18th month in vigil to protest its closing by the archdiocese. For 535 days, the faithful have spent day and night, on a rotating basis, in the pretty church set on 30 acres of prime real estate near the ocean.

''We're not going anywhere," says Maryellen Rogers, who, along with her husband, Jon, has helped lead the occupation. ''We are strong and growing stronger each passing day." In December, the group met with Cardinal Sean O'Malley in hopes he will reopen their church; meanwhile, they have filed a civil lawsuit and Vatican appeal.

The archdiocese denied parishioners an Easter Mass, but a glance at the St. Frances schedule shows that parish life continues apace. In the past month, there have been video nights, children's stations of the cross, a Palm Sunday Communion prayer service, Easter egg decorating, a Good Friday service and supper, and today, a lay-led Easter service followed by an egg hunt.

Rogers and her husband say they are grateful for the blessings and strength they and their fellow protesters have been given in the past year and a half. Easter is about new beginnings, and, like those at Star of the Sea, they remain hopeful about a new life for their beloved church.

Milton resident Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.