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Framingham parish begins vigil to prevent closing

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Six months after the last parish began a 24-hour vigil to thwart closure, another joined their number. On May 6, a week before their parish was to be suppressed, a group of parishioners at St. Jeremiah Parish in Framingham began their own vigil, the eighth since the archdiocesan reconfiguration process began last year.

“We believe that the archdiocese made the wrong decision, and wasn’t using current information to make the decision to close our parish, and we’ve been unable to really have a dialogue with them about why they’re closing our parish, and we want our parish to stay open,” said Jackie Lemmerhirt, co-chair of St. Jeremiah’s appeal committee.

The vigil began early because officials for the Archdiocese of Boston came to change the locks on May 6, Lemmerhirt told The Pilot in a telephone interview on May 9.

“Our church is still open. Why does that need to be done early?” she asked.

Lemmerhirt said she and other parishioners were afraid they would be locked out of the church before the final Mass which was scheduled for May 8.

The pastor, Father Ronald G. Calhoun began disassembling the altar, took the tabernacle down and started transferring sacred objects to the receiving parish, St. George Parish in Framingham, on May 9, Lemmerhirt said, calling his actions “unexpected.”

Terry Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that there was a “misunderstanding” between the pastor and parishioners about which objects were going to St. George. He emphasized that sacred objects could be returned to St. Jeremiah’s if the closure were reversed.

The pastor and other parishioners at St. Jeremiah’s have been working hard to transition to their receiving parish. They are turning a “difficult and sad moment” into a “positive and spiritual event, Donilon added.

“The vast majority of the parishioners at St. Jeremiah’s have embraced the decision of the archbishop and the archdiocese, and we’re very thankful for that,” he said.

Those participating in the vigil are ready to stay in the church for as long as it takes for the archdiocese to reverse the decision, Lemmerhirt said. They have already sent an appeal to Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley and plan to appeal to the Vatican if turned down. They also plan to file a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese for property ownership by the end of this week, she said.

Lemmerhirt said she hopes those participating in the vigil at St. Jeremiah’s will be able to open up dialogue with the archdiocese.

Donilon stressed that many transitional meetings have been held between parishioners at St. George and St. Jeremiah that have promoted open communication.

Lemmerhirt said she and others at St. Jeremiah’s were encouraged by the success of other vigils when they considered starting their own.

“We see the wonderful community that just thrives from these vigils, and we have a very strong community to begin with, so I’m expecting that our parish will absolutely thrive in vigil,” she added.

The parish vigil began at St. Albert the Great in Weymouth in August 2004. A group of parishioners at St. Anselm in Sudbury were quick to follow suit. Five other occupations began over the next few months at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate, St. Therese in Everett, Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence in Brookline and St. James the Great in Wellesley.

A vigil also took place at St. Bernard Parish in Newton, which remained open due to changes in reconfiguration. That vigil ended after the archdiocese announced suppression for that parish was being reconsidered.

The archdiocese announced a plan to close 83 parishes in May 2004.

So far 59 parishes have closed or merged. Due to changes in reconfiguration, only 20 parishes remain on the list for closure.

The archdiocese announced on March 31 the decision to reopen St. Albert the Great and reopen St. Anselm as a chapel. Throughout the process, the archdiocese has announced that other parishes, originally marked for closure, will remain open. All changes have resulted from advice Archbishop O’Malley received from the Reconfiguration Review Committee.

The next two parishes set to close are St. John-St. Hugh in Dorchester and St. Francis de Sales-St. Philip in Roxbury on May 15. A new parish, St. Katharine Drexel, will be formed in their place and use both church buildings.

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