As he has every Friday during Lent since St. James the Great in Wellesley closed in 2004, John Daly led a small group of the faithful in the Stations of the Cross this Good Friday.
It is a ritual he loves, but sadness hit him at the 14th station, when Jesus is laid in the tomb: Good Friday is the only day of the year when St. James parishioners do not finish the stations with the story of the resurrection. It is an untold story with special resonance this Holy Week. “I’m very aware that this may be the last time we do it in this building,’’ Daly said. It’s a sad way to end, he said.
Seventeen parishioners came to the Stations of the Cross ceremony Friday afternoon, followed by a group of about 20 for an evening Good Friday service and Adoration of the Cross. An Easter Vigil is planned for Saturday night.
“Good Friday is a very somber day anyway,’’ said Kathy Daly, John’s wife. “Somehow to have this news come just before Holy Week is even sadder.’’
Early this week, Wellesley’s Board of Selectmen signed an agreement with the Archdiocese of Boston to buy St. James for $3.8 million. The sale needs Town Meeting approval in June.
If the sale goes through, which town officials have said they hope will be this fall, the church that was completed in the 1950s will be demolished. The town plans a swimming pool, skating rink, and playing field for the 8-acre site on Route 9.
Though the church has been closed for nearly eight years, a small group of parishioners has refused to leave, holding vigil in St. James and filing appeals with the Vatican to reverse the parish’s closing. Their most recent appeal, to reverse the deconsecration performed last July that turned the church into a secular building, was denied.
They have one last appeal left with the highest court of the Vatican, which spokeswoman Suzanne Hurley said they will probably pursue.
“We’re just hoping for a miracle,’’ said Teresa Barlozzari, who said she has been a parishioner at the church for 20 years. “A miracle hasn’t come yet.’’
St. James is one of a handful of churches still in vigil after the 2004 reconfiguration of the archdiocese. Before that, there were 357 parishes in the archdiocese, according to the archdiocese; today, there are 288.
Eight churches shuttered in 2004 began vigils, and today, four remain occupied, according to the archdiocese: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in East Boston, St. Therese in Everett, St. Francis in Scituate, and St. James the Great.
All four have filed and lost appeals with the Vatican to have their parishes reopened, said Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.
The archdiocese has not moved to end the vigils in any of the four churches, said Donilon, and will not until they have exhausted the canonical process of appeals.
The other four churches whose vigils have ended have either reopened or been sold.
Donilon said there is no chance that the archdiocese will reopen St. James or any other church still in vigil as a parish.
“The vast majority of Catholic faithful impacted by the parish closings of 2004 have moved on,’’ he said.
But the St. James parishioners are resolute. The vigil, said Hurley, is not waning.
“Everybody who is a party to it believes that their faith is stronger because, with all due respect, I don’t need the archdiocese; they’re not a necessity,’’ she said. “But they don’t exist without us.’’
Hurley issued a statement Friday calling the timing of the news of the sale “reprehensible’’ on the part of the archdiocese. Officials from the archdiocese met with parishioners last week to break the news of the sale. “Was it necessary for Monsignor Deeley [vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese] to advise us of this decision as we prepared to celebrate Holy Week? No,’’ she wrote. “He should be ashamed of his behavior.’’
On Friday afternoon, Donilon responded with a statement refusing to respond directly to Hurley’s criticism.
“This being Good Friday I am not inclined to dignify such an angry and attacking letter with a response,’’ he wrote. “We wanted to show respect to those in vigil by meeting with them in person.
“We have kept open lines of communication throughout this vigil in a closed church. The time has come for this vigil to end for the good of the Catholic community in Wellesley, the town, and the entire archdiocese.’’
Parishioners attending Good Friday services at St. James said they were not ready to give up yet. “It’s Holy Week, and we’re all together praying,’’ said Susan Hunt, a parishioner at St. James for 33 years who comes to the lay-led service every week. “We’re going to continue to do this until there is no church to do it in.’’