St. Stan's Pins Prayers on Mediation Request

By Tammy Daniels
April 8, 2009

ADAMS, Mass. — Irene Cwalinski has been coming twice a week for the past 15 weeks to sit for a few hours in the chilly air of a closed church.

She's been attending St. Stanislaus Kostka for decades. She's not ready to join another parish. She's still hoping the historic church will be saved.

"It's like the bishop tore the hearts out of the people here, the parishioners," she said, tearing up as she spoke of her church. "It's like our second home and he took it away from us."

For 103 days, some 200 steadfast members of St. Stan's have been mounting a round-the-clock vigil to prevent the dismantlement of the church their forefathers built at the turn of the last century. They've appealed to Rome, and were told this week that their plea would be extended until May 14.

But the "vigilers" are pinning their hopes on a 22-page document submitted to the Vatican along with 30 other parish groups in eight dioceses across the country fighting to keep their churches open.

The "request for mediation" petition was hand-delivered in Rome to the Vatican's undersecretary for relations for state by Peter Borre, founder of the grassroots Council on Parishes, on Tuesday. Borre, of Charlestown, emerged as a leader in the battle to prevent the Archdiocese of Boston from closing parishes in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal.

The petition urges the secretariat of state to instruct the Vatican Curia to suspend reviews of parish closings and order the American bishops to suspend parish closing decrees. Instead, a mediator would work with the parishioners and bishops to create a dialogue that, vigilers hope, will keep the affected parishes open.

"This will usher in a creative and constructive solution to this very serous problem that's occuring today in the church," said Laurie Haas, a St. Stan's member who's shepherded the now closed parish through the appeals process. "The framework for mediation could bring about resolution of our current situation here at St. Stan's, so this is very exciting news."

St. Stan's was closed in a sweeping consolidation of parishes throughout the Springfield Diocese. The Polish parish was combined with the previously yoked Notre Dame-St. Thomas to create the Parish of Pope John Paul the Great at a renamed Notre Dame.

Irene Cwalinski has been participating in the St. Stan's vigil twice a week for 15 weeks.

St. Stan's Parish was stunned by the announcement, citing its healthy financial situation, historical significance, attached school and active congregation. Vowing not to give up easily, they mounted the vigil days before the church was scheduled to close, joining five parishes entering their fourth year and fifth vigil years in the Boston area.

The number of parishes fighting closure is growing. "It's nationwide, we're a movement," said Eugene Michalenko, not entirely joking.

The mediation request, said Haas, offers "concrete solutions" along with statistics that should give the Vatican pause, including that more than a third of Boston Catholics stop attending church within a year of closings. More are beginning neo-Catholic communities outside of Rome's influence.

Petitioners say failure of the Catholic Church to treat equitably with them will only result in increased alienation, protests, schismatics and lawsuits. "Docility in the pews," vigilers said in a statement, "is a thing of the past."

The groups are saying "the Vatican should step in and prevent bishops from basically wrecking the Catholic Church in America by shutting down viable parishes," Borre told The Associated Press from Rome.

At St. Stan's, people lined up to be interviewed by local television stations, in hopes that their frustration and sorrow will be understood. A local petition formulated by a non-member of St. Stan's addressing its historic and artistic significance is beginning to make the rounds in Berkshire County.

Hank Tomcowicz talks to CBS3 about the vigil.

"This request is a last resort because of the likelihood of across-the-board denials by the Vatican's highest court of nine pending appeals from Boston parishes," Michalenko read from a statement at a press conference in the church on Tuesday. "And a possible future decision by the cardinal-archbishop of Boston to resort to police to clear five churches currently in vigil."

Eugene Michalenko

The possibility of being forcibly removed from St. Stan's has been on parishioners' minds despite assurances by the diocese that no action would be taken. Two New Orleans churches were cleared in early January after 10-week vigils.

Haas and Michalenko don't know how fast the response will be to the request, but they're hoping it will leapfrog years of appeals that may well go nowhere.

"We're trying to be proactive and keep the lines of communication open," said Michalenko.


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