WELLSVILLE - After a wait of two and a half years, Monday morning saw the parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church in Wellsville attend Mass within its walls once again. It was the single annual Mass that the Diocese of Youngstown had promised to parishioners in the autumn of 2012 to celebrate its patron feast day of the Immaculate Conception.
Despite the early 8:30 a.m. time announced by the diocese on Saturday, nearly 140 people turned out for the occasion, which some admitted they thought might never come. "If there's miracles, I think I witnessed one today," said Kenny Biacco, a member of the Committee to Save Immaculate Conception Church.
Many were overcome with emotion and cried during the Mass, though it was out of joy rather than the sorrow that prompted tears when Bishop George V. Murry, head of the Youngstown Diocese, celebrated the last Mass at the church on July 23, 2011.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church in Wellsville turned out for the first Mass held at the church since July of 2011. (Submitted Photo)
Committee members had held a press conference a week earlier announcing receipt of a letter from the Vatican stating that their most recent letter of appeal had been hand-delivered to Pope Francis on Thanksgiving Day. Though announcement of the church reopening was not made during this Mass, they still felt much to be thankful for.
Dolly Brophey described herself as ecstatic for the occasion and was one of the many shedding tears of joy. "I was so overwhelmed in church that I just cried. It was a beautiful, beautiful Mass," she said.
Despite her obvious differences with the bishop over his decision to close ICC following a merger with St. Aloysius Parish (now Holy Trinity Parish) in 2011, Brophey says Bishop Murry was very cordial toward them, and she was gratified by his presence.
Murry was joined by Monsignor Robert Siffrin, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese, the Rev. Peter Haladej from Holy Trinity and the Rev. Bob Edwards from St. Paul Parish in Salem as co-celebrants for the Mass.
Brophey says the strong turnout from diocesan fathers and parishioners, combined with the papal review of their appeal, have reinforced her faith in the possibility that ICC might be reopened after all. "I have more hope today than I have had for a long time," she said.
Beverly Hentzell, another member of the committee, was also pleasantly surprised to see Murry celebrate the Mass personally. "I think none of us expected that," she said. Hentzell also feels more optimistic about the prospects for ICC to be reopened for weekly Mass.
"This where we feel at home," she said, pointing out how regular parishioners who attended found the pews where they used to sit and returned to them.
For Hentzell, that kind of history is why this building means so much to her and the others who have lobbied the diocese since its closure. She pointed out that the church was built nearly 90 years ago by the fathers and grandfathers of people still living in town who attended the church weekly before it was closed.
"That's why it's so strong and ingrained in us," she said. "These generations built this church, and these families are still here."