CLEVELAND -- The first two Catholic churches ordered by the Vatican to be reopened, will celebrate Mass on Sunday.
St. Casimir in Cleveland and St. John the Baptist in Akron are in the final stages of preparing for their reopening. The interior and exterior of each church are being restored to the state they were in back in 2009 when they were closed by Bishop Richard Lennon.
At St. Casimir, in what was once a predominantly Polish neighborhood on the city's east side, workers were prying boards off stained glass windows which had not seen the light of day in 32 months.
As many as one thousand people are expected for Sunday morning's 11:30 a.m. Mass, which will be followed by a community celebration. Many of those in attendance had worked for the church's reopening since 2009.
"What really tells the difference is who will come back the following Sunday and the following Sunday," says Fr. Eric Orzech, recently named pastor of St. Casimir. "We certainly do have a wonderful core of dedicated parishioners, some still in the area and some from beyond."
Looking back, Orzech, who will also continue as pastor of St. Stanislaus Church in Cleveland, called the closing of St. Casimir "the one thing that could have brought people together that would not have come together in any other way."
"That unity is hopefully not going to be a lost commodity," he hoped. "That dedication has got to continue and bear much fruit."
At St. John the Baptist in Akron, newly named pastor Fr. Jonathon Zingales was also busy preparing the church for its reopening Mass Sunday at 10 am.
"We really have to see what happens here, and who will return and maintain the parish," Zingales told WKYC. As of midweek, only about 70 people from 48 families had registered officially as parishioners of St. John the Baptist.
"And their median age is 72," Zingales said, noting that the church was never really a neighborhood church, but one that attracted an "ethnic" congregation, mostly Slovak.
"Those days are mostly gone, though," Zingales noted. "The question ultimately is are you going to stay and are you going to build?"
Nonetheless, hopes were high as the church on Brown Street was readied for Sunday. Everything was in place for Sunday's celebration and Zingales said the diocese had been very supportive in the reopening process.
He too plans a meeting with church-goers after the first Sunday Mass. "We'll talk about whatever the people have on their mind," the new pastor said. "Even if it means discussing the pain of their closure. I think it all has to come out so we can start again."