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St. Frances denied Christmas Mass: Parishioners continue sit-in

Parishioners of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church won't get their Christmas wish.

By Jillian Fennimore | jfennimo@cnc.com | Thursday, December 23, 2004

Church members learned Tuesday that their petition to Archbishop Sean O'Malley to have Christmas Mass in the Hood Road church, which has been closed since October, has been denied.

Christmas Masses have been allowed at St. Albert the Great Parish in Weymouth where parishioners have been sitting in and holding vigil since its August closure. And the St. Frances faithful were holding out hope they'd have the same opportunity this holiday season.

But in the letter received from the Boston Archdiocese this week, O'Malley said to allow a Mass at St. Frances would "compromise the efforts of St. Mary of the Nativity Parish in their work as the welcoming parish in Scituate."

"Many former parishioners have made the transition to St. Mary of the Nativity and gather there as a family of faith," the letter read. "It is my prayer that those who are in vigil at St. Frances will also make the transition."

O'Malley did approve a requested meeting between parishioners and the Archdiocese' Reconfiguration Review Committee, to allow church members to discuss their situation and make their plea with a committee representative to reopen the church. An October appeal to the Archbishop to reverse the church closure was denied and the church appeals committee has also made an appeal to the Vatican.

In the meantime, St. Frances parishioners say they aren't going anywhere.

Since the church's final Mass on Oct. 24, Jon and Maryellen Rogers have helped organize a 24-hour "sit-in" vigil at St. Frances, with more than 100 parishioners participating.

The news that their request for Christmas Mass was rejected came as another blow to church members.

"What you do for one, you do for all," said Maryellen Rogers.

But she noted O'Malley's favorable decision for St. Albert's could bode well for that parish and its members.

"Maybe they're going to keep St. Albert's open," she said.

Last week, O'Malley reversed his decision to close Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in West Plymouth, also giving those like Jon Rogers faith for the future of St. Frances.

The Archdiocese previously had plans to close 83 churches, including six on the South Shore.

Plymouth's dramatic population growth was behind the Archdiocese reversal, and Jon Rogers said the same goes for Scitaute.

"Everything that holds true in the Plymouth parish, holds true for us," he said. "They are the conduit to keeping our doors open."

Maryellen said tonight parishioners will work to put together a letter of response to be sent back to the Archdiocese by tomorrow.

Parishioner of St. Frances, Veronica Tutunjian, had one question when she heard about the rejection of Christmas Mass.

"Where is the Christmas giving from the Archdiocese?" she asked.

Tutunjian said she initially moved to her home in Scituate because it was walking distance to and from the church. Since the closing of St. Frances, she has not been comfortable enough to attend receiving churches like St. Mary of the Nativity on Kent Street and St. Anthony's in Cohasset.

"I am emotionally not ready to embrace another church," she said.

Jan Redmond said as a group, parishioners of St. France still need to work together.

"We have to keep talking, keep thinking," she said. "We're like a family now."

While they won't have a Christmas Mass at the church, on Sunday 200 people attended a Christmas vigil at the Church.

Music, food and a prayer service was just part of the event that day as parishioners looked towards a more promising future for the church.

Also considering the future of St. Frances Church and the 25-acres it sits on, are town officials who continue to move forward with plans for Scituate to buy the property.

In October, Selectmen members appointed a church committee to evaluate the 25-acre property and consider seizing it by eminent domain. They are currently in the process of evaluating the land's worth and possible future uses.

Maryellen said parishioners will continue the vigil inside the church and keep faith they might win some concessions from the Archdiocese.

"We suffered just as much," she said. "All we wanted was a Christmas Mass."