Margy O’Brien, a lifelong Catholic, has attended St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate since it opened in the 1960s.
“From the time I was bringing up children, it was our parish, and [we had] first communions, confirmations, a couple got married there, we had funerals there,” says O’Brien, who taught Catholic Christian doctrine classes there.
Now she’s 80 years old, and lately O’Brien has been going to the church almost every day—though not for mass, since there are no priests at the church anymore. In fact, usually she’s there alone, because St. Frances is one of dozens of Catholic churches that the Archdiocese of Boston closed in 2004—and one of three that has held 24-hour vigils every day since closing.
Last week, a Vatican court upheld the archdiocese’s decision to close the Boston-area churches, but parishioners of those churches say they aren’t giving up.
Jon Rogers, a spokesperson for the parishioners of St. Frances, says the closed churches will continue the sit-ins and fight the ruling, even mounting a lawsuit if necessary.
“You look at this organization and you look at their past history or current history,” says Rogers, “and they have managed to put themselves front and center on every scandal sheet across the world, hurting children, financially abusing, spiritually abusing, physically abusing their parishioners, the people that basically keep them in business.”
The archdiocese did not respond to the Dig‘s requests for comment. But a statement on their website offers: “The normal process for receiving formal word from the Vatican on matters related to the parish closings is in writing to all the parties involved. Until such time as we receive a formal decision from Rome we will defer comment. The archdiocese continues to seek a prayerful resolution to all of the vigils.”
The archdiocese has justified the closings with an ongoing priest shortage, declining church attendance and financial problems, and insists that the sexual abuse scandals that cost $85 million in lawsuits are not related to the churches closing.
Spokespeople from St. Frances say the archdiocese is being disingenuous. “None of the reasons for reconfiguration applied to us,” Rogers said. “Bottom line is this was just a straight-out land grab.”
Infant Jesus-Saint Lawrence in Brookline and St. Frances are both slotted to shut down, and were also listed in the top 10 of assessed church properties, according to a 2004 Boston Globe investigation. St. Frances was worth $4 million, and St. Lawrence was valued at $3.65 million at that time. If Rogers is right, it wouldn’t be unprecedented. St. Aidan’s in Brookline (the church where JFK was baptized) was approved to be converted into apartments in 1999, and is now a 59-unit development, with available condos ranging in price from $899,000 to $1.625 million.
O’Brien is aware that she’s an unlikely rebel, but she plans to continue attending sit-ins. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought when I retired this is what I’d be doing, keeping a vigil on a church that was closed and being interviewed by newspapers and TV stations, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she says, her voice breaking. “I’m very glad to be a part of it.”
Still, she acknowledges it’s an uphill battle. “It’s the Vatican, after all, who we’re fighting,” O’Brien says.