ADAMS -- The two women embraced inside the vestibule of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Monday night.
"Did you ever think we'd see this?" said one.
"Somehow it's hard to believe," answered the other. "But we did it."
Former parishioners of St. Stan's occupied their church for 1,150 days over the last three years until the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield reopened it as a place of worship and a mission of the Parish of Pope John Paul the Great on Feb. 18.
But the real homecoming took place Monday night.
More than 500 parishioners filled the pews for a short ceremony in which the Eucharist that signifies the sacrament of Holy Communion was officially returned to the church's tabernacle. The sanctuary lamp, which signifies the Eucharist occupies its customary place, also was lit.
As the sweet smell of incense filled the air, the Rev. Daniel Boyle of the Parish of Pope John Paul the Great quoted from scripture before addressing those in attendance.
"I believe we all have the same thoughts tonight," he said. "Lord, how good it is to be home. Welcome home."
Spontaneous applause broke out.
The diocese had closed the 110-year-old church and suppressed the parish as a cost-cutting measure in 2008, and the following series of appeals took three years to wend its way through the Vatican's court system. The decision to reopen St. Stanislaus came on the heels of a final report of the Apostolic
In November, the Apostolic Signatura upheld two other rulings by the Congregation for the Clergy, which affirmed the diocese's right to suppress the St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish and merge it with those of Notre Dame des Sept Delores and St. Thomas Aquinas into the newly formed Blessed Pope John Paul the Great Parish.
When Monday's ceremony ended, a small group in the front of the church began singing the hymn, "Now Thank We all Our God." The singing quickly spread throughout the congregation.
"We had to sing something," said vigil member Eugene Michalenko of Adams.
"It brought back the reverence that I've always had for this place," Michalenko added, referring to the ceremony. "The whole presence of God is here."
After the ceremony ended, several church members embraced Boyle as they filed out of the church.
"Thank you," said one. "This means the world."
St. Stan's is one of the first American Roman Catholic Churches to be reopened for weekly worship services after being slated for closure. Boyle said parishioners had spent the last three years feeling as though they had been "foreclosed upon."
"A church is the eternally spiritual center of a Catholic's life," Boyle said.
The church will host a Palm Sunday Mass at 8 a.m. on April 1 and will thereafter host the parish's 8 a.m. Sunday Mass on a weekly basis. It will also be open on all holy days of obligation and host baptisms, weddings and funerals on request. Notre Dame des Sept Delores will remain the principal church of the parish, where communal liturgies will be held.
Celia Burdick of Adams was baptized in St. Stan's 70 years ago, and married her husband, Ronald, there 50 years ago. Her mother sang in the church choir. Her daughter's wedding also took place at St. Stan's. All those connections, and Burdick was able to sum Monday night's ceremony in just three words.
"It's a miracle," she said.
Transcript reporter Jennifer Huberdeau contributed to this report.