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Parishioners Set Vigil to Save St. Stan's

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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ADAMS, Mass. — A group formed to advocate for St. Stanislaus' Church are mounting a vigil in hopes of reversing a diocesan decision to close the 103-year-old structure.

The parish was shocked to learn in August that the church would among the closures in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield's 10 regions. Appeals have been made to the Vatican but the parish's last Mass will be held on Sunday afternoon at 3 as it and Notre Dame-St. Thomas are folded into a new parish based at Notre Dame Church.

While St. Thomas' Church closed quietly last Sunday, the Friends of St. Stan's have launched a peaceful vigil on Friday morning to keep its doors from being locked and the church's impressive interior from being ripped away.

"Why do they want to destroy our church?" lamented Loretta Ryz-Vinette, 78, one of 50 or so church members clustered on its steps Friday afternoon. "My father came from Poland in 1890. ... He helped build this beautiful church so we could have something to pass onto our generations."

It's the loss of Polish traditions that go with St. Stan's which many feel will be as a great a blow as the losing the building itself, said Francis Hajdas, head of the Vigil Committee.

Daily rosary services in spring and fall, visiting priests, Stations of the Cross on Friday and weekly lamentations have been hallmarks of the Polish church, said Hajdas, traditions that are already disappearing since the parish was yoked with the Parish of Notre Dame-St. Thomas. "Tbe purpose of our peaceful vigil is to protect our rich heritage by preventing the closing of our parish."

St. Stan's has disputed the diocese's reasoning for consolidating the town's two parishes in one church and members have prepared several reports on finances and attendance to press its case.

The diocese stands by its decisions, made after years of planning, said diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont in an e-mailed statement.

"Bishop Timothy McDonnell was saddened today to learn of the intentions of some members of the St. Stanislaus parish community in Adams to begin staging a sit-in at the church," he said. "We can all understand how tremendously disappointed they are about the impending closure of their beloved parish and church. However, there is no justification within the context of our Christian faith, most especially during this Christmas season, for this action and their disruption just yesterday of the sacred celebration of Christmas Mass. We should never put a building ahead of our reverence for God present in a special way during our Eucharistic celebrations."

(There was apparently some give and take between communicants and the Rev. Daniel Boyle at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve according to a number of Internet postings.)

Hajdas stressed that the vigil would be peaceful and "in keeping with the Catholic tradition of sanctuary in places of worship to protest injustice."

He said some three dozen members had indicated they would join the vigil.

The tactic has been used in five churches in Boston, where the first major closings began after the church sex-abuse scandal broke some eight years ago. Two more churches in New Orleans have also mounted vigils in a bid to keep their churches open, said Peter Borre, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes, a Boston-area grassroots organization formed to fight closures.

Borre, who was at Friday's announcement, has been advising the Friends of St. Stan's. He said there had been rumors of a private security force being hired by the diocese to clear the church after Sunday's last Mass. The bishop should act as honorably as his brothers have, he said. "The Catholics should be treated with dignity."

Several parishioners said their voices hadn't been heard by the diocese and that it should have been more open about the closings and renaming of parishes. (The new Adams parish is to be named for Pope John Paul II.)

"This whole thing would have been averted if it had been a democratic process," said Joan Bejgrowicz.

For friends Kyle Pero and Adam Gwozdz, the church's closure means losing an important element of their heritage and potentially endangering their alma mater, St. Stanislaus School, one of the few parochial schools left in the county.

"It's a tragedy that nobody consulted the people," said Pero, a student at the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y. "Isn't the Church of God the people, not the heirarchy?"

His grandmother, Bernice Trczinski, sporting a red "Save St. Stan's" ribbon, had married into the church.

"I married three daughters and buried my husband in this church so I'm really connected with it," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. "It feels like a member of my family died."

But the fight for St. Stan's is causing divisions within the Adams Catholic community; after all, one of the justifications for keeping St. Stan's open would be to close another church instead. It's also apparently causing sharp words between the churches.

"What we're doing to other people over this is wrong and what we're doing to Father Dan is wrong," said Tammy Scalise, who sent four children through the parish school and has a son buried in its cemetery. "There's nothing wrong with peaceful protest but not during Mass. We are called to be inside — being outside is disrespectful."

As much as she loves her church, it's the people not the building that's most important, she said. "This is consigned to dust. ... the most beautiful artwork is not the artwork in the sanctuary, the most beautiful artwork is the artwork of the human soul."

The separate parishes of North Adams will also officially close this weekend and the newly formed Parish of St. Elizabeth of Hungary opened. St. Francis' Church and Our Lady of Mercy will be closed and the new parish be moved to St. Anthony's. "The Bishop continues to remember in prayer all those impacted by these closings and will be joining with many of these communities in the coming days,” said Dupont.

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