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Mourning a church that was a home

St. Peter closing is region's fourth

Lucy Federiconi prayed for a miracle to keep open St. Peter Church, the little Italian parish in the Edgeworth section of Malden that has been her spiritual home for 50 years.

Every Tuesday since May, when the Archdiocese of Boston said St. Peter must close, Federiconi prayed the rosary, along with other members of the Ladies Sodality, before the 7 p.m. nightly Mass.

''What else do you do when you are going to lose your home?" asked Federiconi, 67, an Italian immigrant who wept after finishing the rosary Tuesday night. ''We are Catholics. And they say we can pray anywhere, but this church is part of our life."

The miracle never came. And it remains a sorrowful mystery to many why St. Peter will close today after a special 10 a.m. Mass of Thanksgiving. Generations of Italian families worshiped at the cozy parish, where wood paneling, ceiling fans, and parquet floors made it seem more like a home than a consecrated church.

''Why do they have to close all the national [ethnic] parishes?" asked Rosemary Baglio, whose home parish, St. Joseph, a French national church, closed several years ago. ''If I hear one more time it's the 'Will of God,' I'm going to scream."

''It's heartbreaking," said Rose Rowe, 75, who regularly attends the 7 o'clock nightly Mass. ''This church is in our neighborhood. We're like family here . . . and we're breaking up."

The Archdiocese of Boston, which plans to close 82 parishes, has cited falling Mass attendance, a shortage of priests, and financial problems exacerbated by the clergy sex abuse scandals as reasons for the closings. St. Peter is the fourth of 12 churches scheduled to close in the region north of Boston, most by January. It is the second ''national" parish to close locally. St. Joseph Church in Salem, founded 131 years ago for French-Canadian immigrants, closed last month.

Although the closings have hurt and angered parishioners all over, St. Peter's closing hits especially close to home. Generations of local Italian families supported the church, and their legacy is everywhere. The donated stained glass windows bear names such as Spadafora, Uberti, and Zucchero.

Every pew is a gift from families such as the Colangelis and the DiTrapanos. The confessional, holy water fonts, paschal candle, and other sacred items also were donated. A statue of St. Rocco, the parish's adopted patron saint, watches over the pews. Friends and family often leave flowers in memory of loved ones.

St. Peter is so much like home that a group of five women cleaned the church every Saturday morning. With the devotion of daughters, they vacuumed the blue-speckled rug, polished the long wood benches, and dusted off statues of their favorite saints.

''We'd be in here on our hands and knees," said Joyce Mover, one of the Saturday cleaners, at the church. ''When you're a small parish, you don't have to worry about getting things done. We did it. We took care of it, and if we couldn't, we found someone who could."

Mover feels a special kinship with St. Peter. Her grandparents, Joseph and Florence Smarrella, took care of the church. They washed and folded the altar linens. Florence, a dressmaker, made the clothes, and sewed tiny pearls on the Infant of Prague statue that stands on the altar.

''My grandparents were like everyone else here at St. Peter," said Mover, 50, who now lives in Stoneham. ''They were never rich, but everything they had, they gave to this church."

The Rev. John Paris, a priest at St. Peter for 30 years and himself an Italian immigrant, knows the closing will not be easy. Since it was announced, Paris has asked parishioners to have brave hearts and open minds. ''We don't want a day of sorrow to overshadow many years of peace," Paris told parishioners at Sunday Mass last week.

St. Peter, the smallest of Malden's fourth Catholic churches, was founded in 1923 as a mission of Immaculate Conception, the mother church of Malden. It became its own parish in 1972.

Despite its size, St. Peter is known for reaching out to the larger community. Its food pantry fed hundreds of needy Malden families. The local Knights of Columbus council has agreed to take the pantry over. The city's growing Filipino population found a home at St. Peter. Now their Sunday Mass will move to Immaculate Conception.

At today's closing Mass, parishioners will give thanks for the good works and lasting faith of St. Peter. ''We will need all our strength to get through this," Paris said. ''But we are going to give thanks to God for the many years we have had together."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at

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