ADAMS -- Patricia Kelly sat in the front pew of St. Stanislaus Kostka Mission Church on Palm Sunday, tears of joy streaming down her face as she pulled out a photo of her mother in a communion dress from her bible.
"This is my mom and my grandmother's church," she said. "Today is just wonderful. I was angry that it was closed and disappointed, but then I felt it and knew that it would be reopened.
"God knows where his people are. So many people are turning away from the church and it just would have been a travesty if it closed. So therefore I believed God listened, because he knew this was the people's home, so he brought the home back to the people."
The standing-room only Palm Sunday 8 a.m. service was the first held in the Polish church since the last Mass was said there on Dec. 28, 2008. An around-the-clock vigil, which began on Dec. 26, 2008, ended after 1,150 days on Feb. 18, when it was announced the church would reopen as a mission of the Parish of Blessed John Paul the Great, which makes it home at Notre Dame des Sept Delores. St. Stanislaus will host the parish's 8 a.m. Sunday Mass on a weekly basis and will also host baptisms, weddings and funerals.
The announcement came nearly a year after the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest appeals court ruled that St. Stanislaus should remain open as a church. The court upheld the suppression of the St. Stanislaus parish and its merger into Blessed John Paul the Great Parish with Notre Dame and St. Thomas Aquinas again in November 2011, following an appeal by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. The diocese appealed the decision in order to gain further clarification on the decision, asking the Apostolic Signatura to define exactly how the church should be reopened as a "place of worship." In other parts of the country, reopened churches have only been opened for a single service during the year.
"It's a great day, a proud day, a historic day and I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart," the Rev. Daniel J. Boyle, pastor of Blessed John Paul the Great, said following the service.
Former parishioners of the church appealed it's closure in August 2008, following an announcement by the Most Rev. Timothy McDonnell, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, based on the fact that the church was in good physical condition as well as financially stable. They joined forces with the Council of Parishes in Boston and launched the vigil with some 200 members later that year.
"We're just so happy the Lord has restored St. Stanislaus. It's a great tribute to our faith," Laurie Haas, a founding vigil member and spokeswoman for its members, said Sunday.
Some 150 vigil members took part in Sunday's service, carrying special palms by Theresa Sumaj-Zelazo, which she modeled after those used in traditional services in Poland. They were joined by 55 members of Mater Dolorosa Parish in Holyoke, another Polish-American church shuttered by the diocese. Parishioners of Mater Dolorosa began their own around-the-clock vigil in June.
"This is an example for the whole country, an example of how to reopen churches as the Vatican has ordered," Attorney Victor Anop, a founding vigil member at Mater Delorosa said. "This is just an inspiration. When we sat in the pews on the last day [at our church] Fran Hadjas came down to support us. They've supported us and we wanted to show our support for them."
Many long-time members of the church we're returning to their home church after leaving to attend Mass in another parish.
"I just stopped going to church. I didn't want to go anywhere else," Giuseppa Scieszka, of Melrose Street, said. "I came here in 1957. This was my husband's church. He grew up on Victory Street. My mother-in-law was just a child when they were collecting money to build this church. It's wonderful to see it open again."
Many of the vigil's participants say that it brought them closer as a community over the last several years.
Fran Bulsa and Linda Czelusniak Troy said they reconnected after many years when they became partners every Saturday, sitting in the church from 3 to 5 p.m.
"She used to be the little girl who came to church with her parents and grandparents every week," Bulsa said.
"We lost touch," Troy said. "I think in some ways, this was a blessing in disguise. Four years ago, we were a parish. But over the last three to four years -- after meeting and re-meeting people -- we've become a parish family. That's my greatest wish -- to not only be a parish, but to be a family."
Bulsa added, "It was a long journey and it paid off. Hopefully, things will come together and everybody can be a happy community."