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An 11-year journey of faith ends in Scituate

SCITUATE — Here’s how it began: In October 2004, after the Boston Archdiocese had changed the locks on St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, which church officials had decided to close, a parishioner discovered one door inadvertently left ajar. And then slipped inside.

A few minutes later, the phone rang in Barbara Nappa’s house just a half-mile away. Get up here, the caller said. Nappa rushed to St. Frances to begin a vigil that has been at the center of her spiritual life ever since.

“I’ve been fighting right from the beginning,’’ Nappa told me Tuesday as we sat in the living room of her home, just steps from a sparkling ocean. “If this is the way the church is going to treat me, I am fighting. This is not the church I grew up in.’’


Let me ask you something: Besides your spouse, your kids, and loved ones, is there anything for which you would fight so ferociously?

Here’s my answer: I don’t think so. If the cardinal decided to close my church, which happens to be here in Scituate across town from St. Frances, I would either find another place of worship or play golf on Sunday mornings instead of dragging myself out of bed for 7 a.m. Mass.

So as I sat on Barbara Nappa’s couch the day after the US Supreme Court’s refusal to hear St. Frances’s eleventh-hour appeal for a reprieve, I traced a remarkable journey of faith. It’s a journey that will not end when the church, opened in 1961, soon closes its doors for the last time.

Nappa, 81, was born in Lynn, grew up in Danvers, and moved to Fitchburg in time to enroll at St. Bernard’s High School, where she was taught by the Sisters of the Presentation.


One of three children of a General Electric draftsman and a stay-at-home mom, she lived in the kind of household where Saturday afternoon confession was a weekly ritual. Her mother sang in the choir. Her brother was an altar boy.

“It was such a big part of my life,’’ she said. “I was so proud to wear ashes on Ash Wednesday. I always found solace and strength in the church.’’

She got her undergraduate degree in education from Anna Maria College and began a career as a second-grade teacher, first in Beverly Farms and then at Bass River on the Cape.

All the while, her religion was her North Star. She taught CCD and was part of the church society that cleaned the altar, assuring it gleamed on Sunday mornings.

When it was time for her granddaughter’s confirmation, young Anna asked her grandmother to be her sponsor. “Grammy,’’ she said. “I don’t know anyone holier than you.’’

When the clergy sexual abuse crisis erupted in Boston in early 2002, there was a brief period of denial. “I just couldn’t believe they would do something like that,’’ she said. “When I found out that Cardinal Law was a problem, I said, ‘Now, what do I do?’ It just broke my heart.’’

So did the decision to close her beloved St. Frances. It broke her heart — not her faith.

In the 11 years since, she has presided over Sunday services. She has officiated at six funerals. She prays the rosary every day. “It gives me a glowing feeling,’’ she said.


Nappa said she was angry at the news that the Supreme Court — like judicial bodies from Rome to Dedham before it — had decided to deny her church a legal lifeline.

“It’s in my rear-view mirror now,’’ she said of the place she tried to save for 11 years. “It doesn’t make me sad anymore.’’

Some St. Frances parishioners are vowing to start a new independent church, and Nappa said she will go with them.

Since we’re on the subject. I have a confession of my own to make. When I first wrote about St. Frances a year ago, I thought I would say something like this: Enough is enough. Occupying a church for a decade? Move on.

Then I met Barbara Nappa, woman of faith.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.