The pews at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church were packed on Sunday morning.
Even as parishioners celebrate news that the church may reopen, a bulletin board reminds them that the vigil is not over.
Laurie Haas reads the letter sent to the bishop along with the decree.
ADAMS, Mass. — St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is part of an "historic moment" in receiving one of several decrees from the Vatican so far that seem to open new avenues for closed churches.
Parishioners who have mounted a round-the-clock vigil were jubilant over the decision that rejected the Springfield Diocese's reasoning for closing the 100-year-old Polish place of worship. This, they say, means the church must be reopened as "a Catholic place of worship."
"This is a historic moment in the Catholic Church," said spokeswoman Laurie Haas after reading the letters sent to the diocese and the media and an English translation of the ruling from the Congregation of Clergy to the some 70-odd supporters seated in the pews. "We understand that a decree such as ours has only been issued in two other dioceses in the United States."
(Update: Similar decrees were sent to dioceses in Pennsylvania and Buffalo, N.Y., as well as to two other churches in the Springfield Diocese —St. George's and St. Patrick's, both in Chicopee.)
The ruling does not spell out what role the church may play in the parish — or whether the diocese can offer a better rationale to close it. "It's up to the bishop what happens next," said Haas.
"Depending on what occurs during this critical time will determine whether we go on to the next level to the Apostolic Signatura, the supreme court, which would perpetuate the whole matter," she continued. "I would hope to God the bishop does not want to do that."
Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield, said diocesan officials were reviewing the decree and had no comment at this time.
Francis Hajdas of the Friends of St. Stanislaus said the two-year vigil will continue.
"This is just a temporary thing until we get the official word," Hajdas warned the audience. "Come here at the usual time you signed up for. We'll let you know when it's all over."
The Friends have been leading a vigil that now numbers 200 participants to prevent the diocese from locking the doors and stripping the sacred relics from the Gothic church. They appealed the decision to merge the parish with nearby Notre Dame and St. Thomas and close St. Stan's, saying the Polish church was fiscally, physically and historically more suited as the parish church.
The Vatican decree, dated Jan. 25, reviews two separate issues: the suppression of the parish and its merger as the Parish of Pope John Paul the Great and the actual closing of the parish building as a house of worship.
The Rev. Seraphim Michalenko of the Marian Helpers led a prayer. For more information on the significant links between St. Stan's and the Marians, there is an excellent article here.
The Congregation of Clergy upholds Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell's suppression of the parish in 2008 as part of broad consolidation of numerous parishes throughout the Western Mass. diocese.
It found some technical problems with the closing (still rejecting the appeal de procedendo, or on procedure). But, more importantly, upheld the appeal on the facts (de decernendo) that the "grave motivations" for the closing were not provided.
Haas said the group and its canonical legal advisers believe this means the church should be reopened as a place of worship in some form.
Henry "Hank " Tomkowicz described the ruling as "80 percent" good because of the ambiguity of the language, the rejection of the parish appeal and the uncertainty of the bishop's response. "Hopefully, he's with us."
The Friends hope to have dialogue with the bishop on how the church can be used. While they would prefer once again attaining the status as a parish, Haas said they would be open for use as a shrine, "if it was a shrine that wasn't 6 a.m. Mass on a Monday morning, yeah, probably."
It was important, she said, that the legacy of the church continues. The working-class Polish immigrants who laid the cornerstone and their descendants have poured money and prayer into the building, which boasts such unique features as a stained-glass window with Lenin and being the first in the Western Hemisphere to have an image of The Divine Mercy enshrined within it.
It was fitting then, that the Rev. Seraphim Michaelanko of Adams, director of the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge and an expert on The Divine Mercy, arrived to lead the parishioners in prayer.
But even as they prayed, and chanted "A hundred more years" in Polish, the vigilers were prepared to stick it out to the end.
"They're ready to go on for five more years if they had to because they love this church and some things are worth fighting for," said Haas.