The principle feast day of the Blessed Virgin took on a special meaning Wednesday at St. Mary’s Church, near downtown Akron.
“It is a day when Catholics join together at Mass to give thanks for the faith and hope that we profess every Sunday: ‘I look forward to the resurrection of the dead,’ ” said the Rev. Dan Reed, pastor at St. Mary’s Parish. “As Catholics, we believe that the resurrection of the body has been privileged to Mary, the Mother of God. On this feast day, we commemorate her death and her bodily assumption into Heaven.”
For the nearly 700 people who gathered at St. Mary’s, the holy day of obligation also marked a different kind of renewal — the reopening of the parish and re-establishment of the church as a place of worship.
St. Mary’s was among 50 parishes closed or merged by Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon between August 2009 and June 2010 as part of a reconfiguration to address a shortage of priests, declining attendance and dwindling resources in the eight-county diocese. In response to petitions from parishioners, the Vatican in March ordered 11 of those parishes (including St. Mary’s and St. John the Baptist in Akron) to be reopened. St. John’s reopened last month.
St. Mary’s, which was established in 1887, closed on June 27, 2010. It merged with St. Bernard’s downtown to form St. Bernard–St. Mary Parish. St. Bernard served as the worship site and the use of St. Mary’s church was limited to a weekly school Mass for students attending the kindergarten to eighth grade school at the St. Mary’s site, 750 S. Main St.
Several alumni of the school attended the reopening Mass at the church as a show of support. Among that group were St. Mary’s High School Class of 1949 graduates Robert and Marcy (Grassman) Trares, who live in Wooster.
The Trareses, along with their classmates, typically have a reunion every five years. Part of that celebration is to attend Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s. Marcy Trares said her sadness about the possibility of not being able to attend Mass during the 2014 reunion has been replaced with overwhelming joy, now that the church has been reopened.
“St. Mary’s has been a part of my life. Even though it’s 30 miles or so away, it’s important for us to be here. I’m thinking now that we will come as often as we can,” Marcy Trares said.
Although joy was the overwhelming emotion flowing through the basilica-style Tuscan Romanesque Revival church building, an undercurrent of concern for the future was present for some.
“There is still the question of whether we will get enough people to come back to keep the parish going. After two years, some people have settled into parishes that are closer to where they live. We don’t know if they will come back or stay where they are,” said David Dougherty, a former parish council president and member of the finance councils at both St. Mary’s and St. Bernard-St. Mary’s. “Before the parish closed, we had people coming from all over, even other counties. And we had people sending [offerings] from as far away as Florida. That’s a big commitment. The question now is how many people will commit to coming back.”
Among those who have decided not to return to the parish is Mary Willett, the woman who appealed to the Vatican to have the church reopened. Willett, who prefers the traditional Latin Mass, said she has settled into another church.
“I will always have a special place in my heart for St. Mary’s and I wish them well. I did pray to keep it open and I still pray for the best for them,” said Willett, of Cuyahoga Falls. “It’s not going to be the same St. Mary’s. The traditional Mass will no longer be offered, so I’m going to stay where I can get that Mass every day. I still feel sad about the whole thing.”
The Tridentine Mass that was offered at St. Mary’s before it closed has relocated to St. Sebastian Parish in West Akron. There are no current plans to return it to St. Mary’s, said Reed, who also serves as pastor of St. Bernard.
The regular schedule at St. Mary’s will include one Mass at 9 a.m. Sundays. Mass at St. Bernard is offered at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 6 p.m. (Spanish Mass) and 8 p.m. on Sunday.
St. Bernard’s and St. Mary’s are still part of a cluster of four parishes assigned to work together to better utilize resources. The other two parishes are St. Sebastian and St. Vincent.
Greg Friedl, who is part of a group called “Friends of St. Mary’s” and also prefers the traditional Mass, said he is not discouraged. He said that although he is not sure what the future holds, he is trusting God.
“I was told years ago that this is the Blessed Mother’s parish and that she will protect it with her veil. I believe that to be true,” Friedl said. “Looking at how things have unfolded, I have been able to see God’s hand in all of this. I believe it was the Blessed Mother Mary who was working through everybody to make sure this joyous day happened on her feast day. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit, following the example of the Mother of God, to be witnesses of the kingdom of God in bringing the gospel to everyone we meet.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com