In a curious story today, a little group of independent Catholics outside of Boston were illegally occupying a closed Roman Catholic church building for over a decade, much to the annoyance of the Archdiocese of Boston. Their movement began simply as an attempt by the former parishioners to save their church, but because of the conflict, they were forced to conduct their own Sunday services themselves. Both out of devotion and their tenuous position as squatters, their members kept up a 24 hour vigil for almost twelve long years, with some members sleeping in the building.
After more than a decade of legal wrangling, the Friends of St. Francis X. Cabrini were finally given the boot by the courts, and needed to find a new home for their services.
In a curious chapter of the Freemason/Catholic debate of almost three centuries, enter the Brethren of Satuit Lodge in Scituate, Massachusetts.
From an article today on Boston.com by Allison Pohle:
Now, Tutunjian and a few dozen other parishioners meet at the Satuit Lodge of Freemasons, a large yellow building with green shutters and white pillars that’s less than two miles from the church they occupied for more than 11 years. Although 3,000 people are registered parishioners, Jon Rogers, a spokesman for the Friends, said anywhere from 40 to 100 people attend mass each week.
Robert Smith, the lodge’s master, said they’ve never had a church group request to meet inside the temple. Then again, he’d never heard of anyone quite like the parishioners of St. Frances.
“I’d followed their story and they had such dedication,” Smith said. “I only knew that an organization of good people within our community needed help, and that was enough for us. We wanted to make it work for them.”
“We told them we wouldn’t go into vigil here,” Maryellen Rogers, another spokeswoman for the Friends and Jon’s wife, said.
“To make them feel at home, we said we would tell them they needed to leave,” Smith said. Rogers laughed.
The first mass was held June 5, exactly one week after the final service at St. Frances. The Friends made sure they wouldn’t miss a Sunday.
“When we say something, we mean it,” Jon said. “We said we’d pursue every legal avenue. We did. We said we’d stay together. We have. And we’re only growing.”
The parishioners have advertised their new congregation as a church, which they call ‘The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,’ for those with no home. They want to give a space to those who have been injured in some previous church relationship, but also to those who want to experience Catholicism. Jon said they’ve already had a handful of new parishioners.While the old congregation was led exclusively by parishioners, the new service is led by the Rev. Terry McDonough, who is married and has long been at odds with the Catholic church.
Photo by Jean Nagy/Boston.com
"I slept over the church every Tuesday night for nearly 12 years, but I never took on the role of a priest so I didn’t ruin the sanctity of the vigil,” he said. “But now I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
To preserve the memory of the vigil, the congregation will hold one parishioner-led service each month. But on a recent Sunday morning in early July, they were following a more traditional service — in their own style.
Longtime St. Frances parishioner Susan Lynch strummed an acoustic guitar and sang a song called “All are welcome in this place.” About 40 people filed into the lodge’s large meeting room and took seats on large plush benches. There were no kneelers. An altar had been set up on a folding table in the middle of the room with a Bible and a chalice. Instead of facing forward, the parishioners faced one another.
McDonough led them through the mass then joined them downstairs for coffee and muffins. Now that the vigil has ended, the coffee hour has become the main time for socializing. Among those chatting was newcomer Jane Trettis.“I’ve never been to a Catholic Mass in a Masonic Temple before,” Trettis said. “These people worked so hard and it’s good they have a space.”