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Scituate parishioners vow to keep up legal fight

Parishioners at the closed St. Frances X. Cabrini Church said they will appeal a judge’s ruling to vacate the property by June 5. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

SCITUATE — About 60 former parishioners stood in line Sunday to receive Holy Communion at the long-closed St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church for what could be the final time.

After nearly 11 years of holding a vigil in the church — praying that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley would reverse his decision to close St. Frances — the former parishioners are facing a court order to vacate the church by 5 p.m. on Friday.

But members of the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini, the group that has organized the round-the-clock vigil, have filed an appeal and said they have no plans to leave.


“This is breaking my heart,” Nancy Shilts, 82, said of the court order. “This is my church. And I intend to stay here.”

A long-time parishioner said the red-brick church a few blocks from the ocean in this South Shore town never should have closed.

Preparing pastries to serve after the service, Marsha Devir, 60, said she believed St. Frances had been in good financial health. “We were such a good parish,” she said. “I just love this church.”

A leader of the vigil group said its members will not back down, despite losing multiple appeals filed with Vatican and state courts.

“Absolutely not,” said Maryellen Rogers, an organizer of the vigil. She estimated the group’s members had spent nearly $100,000 in legal costs to argue their case.

O’Malley closed St. Frances in 2004, as part of a sweeping plan to shut down or merge more than 60 parishes in the Boston archdiocese.

Terence Donilon, a spokesman for O’Malley, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Superior Court Judge Edward P. Leibensperger in May ruled in favor of the Boston archdiocese in a civil lawsuit it filed against the vigil group. The archdiocese — which filed the complaint after the group refused its request to voluntarily end the vigil by March 9 — asserted ownership rights to the 30-acre parish property.


Leibensperger first set a May 29 deadline for parishioners to leave St. Frances. A new deadline of June 5 was set after the judge denied a request by the group that he vacate the order.

Early this week, the group plans to ask the state Appeals Court to suspend the ruling until its final appeal is heard, Rogers said.

“We’re willing to exhaust every level of appeal,” she said. “We’ve said that from day one.”

St. Frances was one of about eight parishes that started vigils to protest their closings more than a decade ago. Most also filed appeals of O’Malley’s decision first to the archdiocese, and later to the Vatican.

The appeals, including one filed by St. Frances, were denied by a high-ranking Vatican body called the Apostolic Signatura.

But while the other vigils eventually ended, the vigil at St. Frances has continued around the clock. Volunteers sleep in beds in a room beside the altar. They sit in reclining chairs in the vestibule to watch cable TV.

A Communion service — with wafers consecrated by a sympathetic priest in the archdiocese — is led by volunteers every Sunday at 10 a.m.

“We’re a vibrant, flourishing faith community,” Rogers said.

But time could now be running out.

“I just came today because things are getting tough for them in the courts,” said Cathy Martin, 51, of Marshfield, who grew up in St. Frances, and brought along her parents to the service.


Her father, William D’Allesandro, 83, who now attends St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Scituate, said he supports the vigil.

“I don’t come here that often,” D’Allesandro said, standing outside St. Frances. “But I believe, from what I hear, that they have a legitimate reason to do all they can to keep this church open.”

Jayla DaVeiga, who is 9, said she attends the Communion service almost every week with her older sister and grandmother.

“I’m going to be sad,” she said, “if they close this church.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.