The bells at St. Stanislaus Kostka Mission Church symbolically rang in what would be the start of a year of new beginnings for many Northern Berkshire religious congregations and denominations.
On Feb. 18, the ringing bells marked the end of a 1,150-day vigil at St. Stanislaus Kostka, in Adams, where former parishioners had sat in around-the-clock shifts refusing to give up on their beloved church.
Just moments prior to the ringing of the bells, the Rev. Daniel Boyle, pastor of the Parish of Blessed John Paul Parish, had announced that the church would reopen as a mission church -- hosting a single weekly Mass on Sundays and Mass on days of holy obligation, along with baptisms, funerals and weddings on request.
"This is the happiest day of my life," said Laurie Haas, vigil spokeswoman, who spearheaded the group's Vatican appeal since 2008, after hearing the news. "We've worked so hard. So many people have worked so hard, and our prayers have been answered."
The announcement made St. Stanislaus one of the first American Roman Catholic churches to be reopened for worship following a ruling of the Apostolic Sigantura, the Vatican' s highest appeals court.
The ruling stated that while the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield was within its rights to suppress and merge the parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka with that of Notre Dame Sept des Delores and St. Thomas Aquinas to form Blessed John Paul, it was wrong to close the church building. It also reversed a decision by the diocese that closed North American Martyrs Church in Lanesborough, which saw its tiny parish merged with that of St. Mary's of the Assumption Church in Cheshire in 2008.
The churches were just two of many Catholic churches across Western Massachusetts that were closed in 2008, when the diocese was looking at ways to cut costs and right-size parishes to the available number of priests.
While the group of 200 vigil members had won their battle, they would wait until April 1 -- Palm Sunday -- to celebrate the first official Mass at the church since Dec. 2008. The standing room-only Mass, was an emotional moment for many whom had spent their whole lives as members of the 110-year-old parish.
"This is my mom and my grandmother's church," Patricia Kelly said, tears streaming down her face as she pulled out a photo of her mother in a communion dress from a bible, prior to its start. "Today is just wonderful. I was angry it was closed and disappointed, but then I felt and knew that it would be reopened."
While the Catholics in Adams were rejoicing, members of the former First United Methodist Churches of North Adams and Williamstown were uniting under a new name and preparing to finalize the sales of their respective churches.
On March 15, the congregation chose its new name, New Hope United Methodist Church, a little over a year after the two churches merged into a single entity and began its search for a new name and a new location.
While the First United Methodist Church of North Adams had left its home at 159 East Main in 2008, holding services at the nearby First Congregational Church, the First United Methodist Church of Williamstown had continued to use its church, which was built in 1872, until late June.
The church, which was deconsecrated on Sunday, June 24, was purchased by the Williamstown Community Preschool. In September, the congregation said good-bye to the church building in North Adams, which was purchased by the Barbara and Eric Rudd Art Foundation Inc.
Eric Rudd, a local artist and real estate developer, said he envisions the church becoming the home of a contemporary art installation and several non-profit agencies. While preservation of the building was his main priority in September, he said the building has a lot of potential -- possibilities include it becoming the home of the North Adams Historical Society's museum and a visitor's center.
Meanwhile, New Hope United Methodist Church has settled in a "temporary" space at 4 Water St. in Williamstown, where it is holding services and events, until a more permanent space is found.
Changes in the physical locations of houses of worship weren't the only type of transformation taking place in the religious communities during 2012. Several congregations saw the departure of their leaders and a local son took his final vows, becoming an ordained Catholic priest.
In March, the Rev. Edward King presided over his last service at All Saints Episcopal Church in North Adams, where he had served as pastor for nine years. King, who officially retired at the age of 72 in June following a three-month sabbatical, had spent the last 33 years as an ordained minister. The church recently announced on its website that the Rev. Dr. Stephen White has signed on as its new pastor.
The First Congregational Church in North Adams is also welcoming a new pastor, the Rev. Ann Clark-Killam, following the departure of the Rev. Pat Kriss in November. Kriss, who took over as pastor of the First Congregational Church in Danbury, Conn., recently presided over the funeral of one of the teachers killed during the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Catholics in North Adams and Adams celebrated the Rev. Matthew Alcombright, who was one of six men ordained into the priesthood in June. Alcombright, 29, the son of Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and Marianne Rosenburg, presided over his first Mass at Blessed John Paul Church on June 3.