WELLSVILLE - Parishioners of Immaculate Conception celebrated the annual feast of their patron saint Saturday, even as they continued their plea to the Vatican to grant them full use of their still-closed church.
Prior to the Feast of Immaculate Conception prayer service, spokeswoman Beverly Hentzell held a brief press conference on the steps of the United Methodist Church at Fifth and Main streets, which has been serving as the ICC worship site in recent months.
Hentzell said parishioners are "deeply disappointed" in the recent directive by Bishop George Murry regarding the re-opening of ICC, which is supposed to take place next year on the date of the Feast of Immaculate Conception.
"This is mean-spirited. Other bishops, faced with a reversal of their church closing decrees, have been much more pastoral. Cleveland, Ohio, and Springfield, Mass., for example," Hentzell said.
While the Vatican has ordered ICC re-opened, Murry chose to comply by allowing it to be open for one mass per year, for the Feast of Immaculate Conception, and once a week for other purposes, but not mass.
The church held its last mass July 23, 2011 after a reconfiguration set down by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, merging it with St. Aloysius Catholic Parish in East Liverpool. Under the same plan, the parishioners of St. Ann Catholic Church in East Liverpool decided to suppress, or close.
In her remarks Saturday, Hentzell said a "broad-based petition," signed by about 300 Catholics, will be delivered to the Vatican next week, saying, "It is incomprehensible to us that the bishop plans to lock well over 200 Catholics out of their church for another full year, while mass attendance at the surviving church in our area St. Aloysius (has) less than 250 families."
Hentzell said the Committee to Save Immaculate Conception Church is reviewing its canonical options for bringing "this grave failure of pastoral due care" to the Vatican's attention.
"The issue is much larger than the personal irritation of the bishop. It involves the salvation of souls, in regard to the loss of our worship site. Pursuing this for one and one-half years now, wouldn't it be better in the spirit of the season to celebrate mass now, rather than wait one year?" Hentzell questioned.
The prayer service Saturday was officiated by ICC parishioner Tom Brophey, who has stood in for 74 such services since the church was closed, in the absence of a priest.
About 30 people attended the service, among them long-time ICC member and ardent supporter Dolly Brophey, Tom Brophey's mother.
"It's very sad. This is the feast day of our blessed Mother and, although I'm grateful to be able to have it here, I'm very sad we can't have it our own church," Mrs. Brophey said.