Parishioners Set Vigil to Save St. Stan's
The day after Christmas, 2008, a group called the Friends of St. Stan's entered the church vowing to not to leave until every last avenue to save the historic Polish church had been tried.
Last week, three days after the church's official closing by the Diocese of Springfield, nearly a dozen group members were working on a schedule that keep the building occupied by at least three people at all times.
"We've got a lot of support," said Francis Hajdas, the group's spokesman. "People have been bringing us coffee and doughnuts."
He and Henry "Hank" Tomkowicz were pouring over large schedule board, trying to plug in empty time slots with volunteers. There were a lot of holes to plug, but the group was undaunted.
With good reason, it appears - more people are joining the effort.
Hajda, contacted on Monday, Jan. 5, said about 130 people had gathered at the church to sing carols on Sunday evening. "It was a really good showing," said Hajdas. The event was so successful, the singing will resume next Sunday but at 2 p.m., an easier hour for the former parish's elderly to attend.
The church will also be in the national spotlight. A reporter from Time magazine spent the entire afternoon on Friday interviewing parishioners; a photographer showed up Sunday.
A strategy meeting last week was attended by close to 100 people, said Hajdass. At least that many are expected for this week's meeting; meetings are held at 7 p.m. on Mondays.
The diocese, meanwhile, has said it won't interfere with the vigil unless safety issues arise. The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said, "We'll leave it to the will of God."
The appeals process in Rome could last more than a year; the diocese has said it is unlikely to overturn the local decision.
St. Stan's was one of six churches closed this fall as the diocese restructured parishes in light of declining attendance and a lack of priests. St. Thomas in Adams closed the week before St. Stan's; both parishes along with Notre Dame, were consolidated into the Parish of Pope John Paul the Great. Notre Dame was designated as the new parish church.
In North Adams, St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Mercy were closed and consolidated at St. Anthony's Church, now known as St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
Those closings, while heartbreaking for many parishioners, were not met with the same level of bitterness as at St. Stan's. Parishioners there fear losing their church also means losing their heritage.
And so the Friends of St. Stan's are determined to go on. Hajdas spent four night in the airy, but chilly, church last week.
"Church pews can be surprising comfortable," he said.