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St. Frances Cabrini parishioners persevere in vigil to resurrect church

The Patriot Ledger

SCITUATE - In the two years since someone found a door left ajar after the Boston Archdiocese locked up St. Frances Cabrini church, a group of parishioners has spent more than 17,000 hours inside the church’s stained-glass walls on an around-the-clock vigil.

St. Frances was among 67 parishes the archdiocese closed in a wide-ranging reconfiguration of church resources. At nine churches, parishioners found their way in and refused to leave, staging sit-ins to try to block the archdiocese from shuttering them forever.

Several of the occupied churches succeeded in convincing Cardinal Sean O’Malley to reopen the doors.

St. Frances is one of five that, so far, have not.

The parishioners occupying the church say they’re not going to give up now.

‘‘There’s a certain stubbornness to it,’’ said Margaret O’Brien, who has gone to St. Frances since it opened in 1960. ‘‘By golly, we’re staying here until they tell us something.’’

God’s house their home

It was on Oct. 24, 2004, that the final Mass was held at St. Frances Cabrini. The sit-in began two days later, and over that past two years, the parishioners have transformed God’s house into their home, too.

The former baptismal room - the font was moved onto the altar decades ago - has become a kitchen. An old full-size refrigerator from someone’s garage, a microwave and a water cooler are set up there now, and the people persevering in the sit-in plan to stock up on canned goods for the winter, when people may be stranded at the church during storms.

The sanctuary is kept sacred.

Jane Redmond likes to take the early morning shift at the church. On this morning, she’s crocheting and watching a game show on television when a visitor walks in to chat. Earlier, she wrote out her grocery list.

‘‘I could do this at home, but it’s very peaceful here,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t have to answer the telephone.’’

That’s what most who have been keeping vigil say - their time in the church is a welcome quiet from the daily demands of life.

Some do puzzles. Some read. One putted a golf ball along the purple carpet of the vestibule and into a plastic cup.

When it’s Bonnie Mayo’s turn, she says a quick prayer, and then she knits. Or arranges flowers. Or puts together one of the gift baskets that are raffled off on Sundays.

Mayo, a recently retired third-grade teacher, said she’s juggled mealtimes slightly at times because of the vigil, but she’s never felt that she has missing out on other areas on her life because of her time at the church.

Instead, she’s gained a whole new group of friends.

‘I never thought I could do this’

When St. Frances was open, Marian MacIsaac was a cantor. Now, she leads the weekly Communion prayer services, with Eucharist blessed by a sympathetic priest. She said she’d like to take courses at Boston College to become a chaplain. If the Catholic Church were to ever allow ‘‘lady priests,’’ she says she’d be the first one in line.

‘‘I never thought I could do this,’’ she said. ‘‘I never expected to be a fighter or a vigilante. But here I am. I couldn’t see my life being any other way at this point.’’

MacIsaac said that there are two ways to react to the long list of problems the Catholic Church has faced recently - the abuse scandals, financial pressures and reconfiguration.

You can leave. Or you can change the rules.

‘‘The men who are running the business, that’s what needs to change,’’ she said. ‘‘Those rules need to change. It needs to be of the people, for the people, by the people.’’

In one way, sitting vigil is like staying at the bedside of someone who is ill. Every movement is scrutinized, a brief glimmer of hope that maybe this is the signal that they’ve been waiting for, that the church will finally be reopened.

These glimmers come few and far between.

‘‘It’s been so quiet,’’ O’Brien said. ‘‘We carry right on as if we’re going to be able to open the doors tomorrow.’’

A long, frustrating wait

The parishioners seem to acknowledge and accept that the liturgical legal system moves slowly. But even the most serene of the them voice some frustration over what they see as a lack of communication from Cardinal O’Malley.