Faith, love and sense of duty sustain parish
Last night at 7 p.m., on the 845th day of their 24/7 vigil to keep their church open, the faithful of St. Frances X. Cabrini, in Scituate, received “contraband ashes” from a sympathetic priest who’d be in big trouble were his identity known.
Every Sunday for more than two years now, they’ve received “contraband communion” hosts, too, in defiance of the once-revered Archdiocese of Boston.
Yet a more unlikely group of rebels you’ll never meet. Most are gray-haired, pious and, until now, obedient. Some still follow even the toughest church teachings on touchy topics like divorce and birth control.
But now here they’re refusing to abandon St. Frances, about 100 of them taking two-hour shifts in the pews by day, knitting, reading, correcting students’ papers or e-mailing on laptops; and sleeping on air mattresses or cots and sharing pizzas by night in makeshift bedrooms off a pristine altar circled by well-watered peace plants.
There’s grandmother Patti Litz, a devout and soft-spoken pre-school teacher who gets teary when she talks of St. Frances’ fate. There’s her daughter Christine Kane, a schoolteacher who spent four years at St. Augustine’s in South Boston, now closed as well. There’s Kane’s 11-year-old son who feels it’s “his duty” to vigil. His was the final First Communion class here.
There’s Bonnie Mayo, another teacher, and Bobbie Sullivan, whose many quilts drape the church recording the congregation’s struggles since the archdiocese declared St. Frances “suppressed” and changed the locks - three days before their vigil was slated to begin.
There’s Maryellen Rogers, who has 16 priest uncles and cousins and two nuns in the family. There’s her 72-year-old mother, yet another local teacher, who was there the night Scituate cops came to arrest them all for B & E.
“They said to my mother, ‘Hey, Mrs. McCarthy, what’s gong on?’ ” Rogers recalled. But police arrested no one. Somehow, as if by a miracle, Rogers said, one side door remained opened. The vigil keepers got in and have never left.
“I am the last guy you’d expect to be in what I call the second American revolution,” said Rogers’ husband, Jon. “I’m a financial planner. I’m much more comfortable watching CNBC and the ticker going down. But this is my fate. This is our mission. This is just right versus wrong.”
The vigil keepers argue that they, not the archdiocese, own this 46-year-old parish. They paid for it. Octogenarian vigil keepers can tell you about checks written and the dearly departed they paid to memorialize on plaques beneath the stained glass.
They can show you spreadsheets indicating that St. Frances was solvent. So why shut it down?
Any realtor can tell you the answer: location, location, location. St. Frances sits on 30-plus acres a block from the ocean in a neighborhood chock full of million dollar homes. The real estate is worth millions.
The vigil keepers have offered to sell the archdiocese 25 of the 30 acres, sparing only the church and parish center where hundreds of local kids once studied and played. To date, no deal.
Meanwhile, they can’t even get a priest for holiday Masses, says Maryellen Rogers, and vigil keepers are afraid if they leave St. Frances unoccupied at all, big burly security guards will show up, as they did last week in East Harlem. The New York Archdiocese actually hired guards to arrest poor, elderly Hispanic women fighting to keep open their beloved parish, too.
Maryellen Rogers, a financial planner like her husband, is neat, well-spoken and conservatively dressed, her blond hair styled and her understated makeup applied just so.
Yet moments before receiving her “contraband ashes” last night, this reborn rebel said, with steely resolve, “They’ll have to take me out in handcuffs, too.”