Staying put

Despite archdiocese’s plan, 7-year vigil participants at St. Therese Church in Everett won’t go quietly

From left, Carol Tumasz, John Ricci , Charlie Gibbons, and Lee Pratto meet at St. Therese Church. From left, Carol Tumasz, John Ricci , Charlie Gibbons, and Lee Pratto meet at St. Therese Church. (Photos By Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / July 24, 2011

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EVERETT - They first slept in St. Therese Church the night the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.

They bundled up in Alaskan coats and blankets after a boiler broke, prompting the Archdiocese of Boston to turn off water and heat in 2008.

They held Communion services to mark milestones of their seven-year prayer vigil, started by four women who did not want to see the brick church on Broadway quietly fade away.

Now they vow to fight a plan by the archdiocese to convert the church into St. Therese Oratory, a chapel devoted to the spiritual needs of Brazilian Catholics, where Mass would be said only in Portuguese.

“We are not going anywhere,’’ said Joan Shepard, 78, a vigil leader, standing behind an altar. “The people of northern Everett built this church. They know it will be open now, and they resent that they will not be allowed in it.’’

A month ago, before the archdiocese announced the new plan for St. Therese, the vigilers filed an appeal to the Vatican challenging the decision of Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley to close the parish in 2004. The appeal is pending. Meanwhile, the vigilers are preparing to challenge O’Malley’s latest decision. A letter-writing campaign to city officials and former parishioners to raise public awareness is being planned.

Church law defines an oratory as a sacred place designated for worship by a particular group. There are no plans to offer Mass in English, the archdiocese spokesman said.

“It’s been designated for the Brazilian community,’’ said Terrence C. Donilon, O’Malley‘s spokesman. “Masses will be said in Portuguese, but everybody would be welcome to attend.’’

Still, the decision to open St. Therese for use by another group of people has angered Catholics occupying the church. “We’ve done this for seven years and for what?’’ asked Gloria Young, 62. “So that someone else can use it?’

“What about the rest of us?’’ asked Carol Tumasz, 53, who moved into the church for a time. “We’ve been here, keeping it open. We want to go to church here, too.’’

St. Therese Oratory will be part of St. Anthony of Padua Church, a multiethnic parish near Everett Square, where Mass is said in English, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

“Here, we have four communities,’’ said the Rev. Dominic Rodighiero, the pastor at St. Anthony for the last three years. “It’s difficult to manage all of them. . . . Finding space for all of them is difficult.’’

Rodighiero said he suggested St. Therese become an oratory for Brazilian Catholics. He got the idea from an Italian parish he used to head in Montreal. When he was also put in charge of a Hispanic parish, he arranged for a church building be used for Mass to continue in Spanish. “It worked out well there,’’ said Rodighiero, who was not serving in the archdiocese at the time the parish closed in 2004.

He made a brief visit to St. Therese last week to meet vigilers. He said a timetable to convert the church to a chapel has not been determined.

“I trust in divine providence,’’ he said. “Divine providence has been very good to me.’’

Rodighiero said he’s not sure how many Brazilians worship at St. Anthony. “There are Brazilians everywhere,’’ he said.

The green, blue, and yellow flag of the South American country flies from cafes, markets, and other Brazilian-owned businesses. But it’s unclear how many Brazilians call Everett home.

The 2010 US Census data counts Brazilians among the city’s white residents, who make up 62.8 percent of the city’s total 41,667 population, according to the city’s community development office.

“We know we have a fairly large Brazilian population,’’ said Marzie Galazka, community development director. “But the census identifies population by race, not ethnicity.’’

Students whose first language is Portuguese, the language spoken in Brazil, number 692 of the 6,159 students registered for fall, according to the Everett public schools. O’Malley considered many factors, including the opinion of local clergy, in his decision to designate St. Therese’s for Brazilian worship.

“The cardinal has spent a large part of his priesthood working with immigrants,’’ Donilon said, noting O’Malley has a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature. “St. Anthony’s is a vibrant and growing parish, but it has limited space. He believes he’s determined a good use for St. Therese.’’

St. Therese was one of 65 parishes shuttered by O’Malley since 2004 as part of a sweeping downsizing of the archdiocese, to cope with a lack of priests and money amid fallout from the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Most St. Therese parishioners now attend other Catholic parishes in the area, including St. Anthony’s, Donilon said.

“If we are serious about rebuilding and healing the archdiocese, we all have to finish this process up,’’ he said. “The best thing they [vigilers] could do for us is to accept this decision, and help us implement it.’’

He declined to say if, or when, the archdiocese would move to resolve the vigil. “The cardinal is a man of peace and a patient man,’’ Donilon said. “He’s deeply concerned about everyone involved in these vigils, but at some point, they will have to end.’’

St. Therese’s appeal to the Vatican could delay any action on the church’s fate. Most other churches that are in vigil appealed soon after their closing. The Vatican denied those appeals last year. St. Therese’s had hoped to avoid filing, but last month decided to take that route.

“Three of us signed it and sent it off to Rome,’’ Shepard said, declining to cite specifics of the appeal. “We didn’t want to do that. . . . We had hoped to work this out with them.’’

She said faithful vigilers are hurt, that after seven years in the pews, St. Therese could become somebody else’s spiritual home.

“We saved this church,’’ Shepard said. “To say now, that Mass now will only be for Brazilians is very disrespectful to the people of north Everett.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at

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