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Nonstop vigil keeps Scituate group hopeful

Church, archdiocese in years-long clash

JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Our Lady of Mount Carmel had its locks reset by the Boston Archdiocese to thwart a vigil by protesters.

SCITUATE - On Day 2,731 of the unbroken vigil at St. Frances X. Cabrini, parishioners vowed to continue their occupation of the shuttered church, despite a move this week by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston that shut down a protest vigil in East Boston.

“We’re optimistic; we’re prayerful; we’re still here 24-seven,’’ said Maryellen Rogers, a leader of the St. Frances vigil, which has maintained at least one person at the church around the clock since it closed in 2004.

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Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley moved last year to deconsecrate the church and several others, so the buildings can be marketed and sold. Parishioners have appealed that decision to Vatican courts.

On Monday night, the archdiocese reset the locks at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston, thwarting vigil protesters who had used the closed church for regular services.

“The vigil at Mount Carmel is over, and it was the longest-running vigil,’’ said Peter Borre, head of the Council of Parishes, a group that fights church closings.

But Borre said Mount Carmel parishioners will appeal to the Vatican’s highest court to stop the church from being sold. He said the Boston Archdiocese broke its promise to permit the vigil to continue until canonical appeals had been exhausted.

The Archdiocese has told parishioners at Mount Carmel that they can contact the property manager to retrieve any personal items left in the church, but they will not be permitted to hold services there anymore, said Kellyanne Dignan, an archdiocesan spokeswoman.

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“We understand that those who have opposed the closing of Our Lady of Mount Carmel desired a different outcome,’’ the archdiocese said in a statement. “For the better part of seven years we have permitted the vigil while the petitioners pursued various appeals. The time for this vigil to end has come. We pray that they will choose to join an open and welcoming parish to experience the fullness of their faith through parish life.’’

The notion that the archdiocese could lock them out is one reason that the protesters at St. Frances X. Cabrini never leave the church empty.

On Friday, parishioner Pat McCarthy kept vigil on the afternoon shift, camped out in an easy chair in the church vestibule. She could not get the DVD player to work, and an unwatched episode of the television series Downton Abbey was on the table, near a half-made jigsaw puzzle. Shelves were stuffed with books and magazines. Lilies from the Easter service the group held at the church, which they say drew 700 people, still bloomed on the altar. She still sleeps at the church sometimes. “God is my roommate,’’ she said.

When McCarthy’s shift was about to end, another parishioner, Marsha Devir, arrived to relieve her. Devir estimated she has personally spent about 10 hours a week keeping vigil at the church for the past 7 1/2 years. She usually reads or cleans or prays while she is there. “I’m just praying we’re going to win,’’ she said.

The St. Frances protesters are still waiting for a decision on a Vatican appeal, they say, and could fight on to a higher canonical court even if they lose. “I would caution anyone who would want to buy St. Frances that we’re going to exhaust every avenue of appeal,’’ Rogers warned.

Another vigil group, at St. James the Great in Wellesley, is discussing whether it should continue to fight to reopen their church.

The archdiocese announced this month that it had reached a deal to sell St. James to the town of Wellesley for $3.8 million. The deal needs Town Meeting approval.

Having lost a Vatican appeal, the St. James group could still hold up the sale by filing an appeal to a higher court, said Suzanne Hurley, a spokeswoman for the St. James vigil. They have until late May to decide if they will fight on, she said.

A vigil at St. Jeremiah in Framingham ended voluntarily, after the archdiocese announced last year it would transfer the church to a congregation of Eastern Rite Catholics that has been worshipping there, said Borre.

The cardinal also announced last year that another vigil church, St. Therese in Everett, would be assigned to St. Anthony Parish, also in Everett, and used to serve the Brazilian community. The archdiocese said the church still has a vigil.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com.

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