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Donna Thomas, right, and Betty Cini sit in the Queen of Heaven Plaza next to St. Monica's Church yesterday in Wampum. — Denny Henry/NEWS

Eleven months after their church closed, Wampum’s St. Monica Church parishioners made an appeal through prayer.

“We hope — through prayers — we can prevail on the (Queen of Heaven) Parish Council to keep both churches in use,” J.V. Lamb said.

St. Monica is part of the Queen of Heaven Parish, which includes St. Theresa Church in Koppel.

The women’s Rosary Guild at St. Monica organized a 12-hour prayer vigil to pray for unity in the parish and the reopening of their church. They prayed yesterday in the sunny Queen of Heaven Plaza next to the church, which no one is permitted to enter for safety reasons.

Lightning struck the Clyde Street building last August. It blew in part of the sanctuary’s wall and dumped debris on the altar. The damage was left unrepaired until January when the hole was bricked in. However, the inside has yet to be fixed.

“Our people can’t understand why when there’s insurance money to cover the storm damage,” Lamb said.

He added that some parishioners have contributed to an escrow fund, which now stands at $38,500. The fund is earmarked to bring St. Monica up to code if it is to continue as a church site.

Lillian Aromatorio said five people opened the prayer vigil at 7 a.m., and a constant flow of people came by all day. They prayed in lawn chairs on the bricked plaza and on pillows to soften the concrete steps.

Some quietly slipped rosary beads through their fingers. Others read from prayer books in silent meditation.

“All we want is one Mass a week and our weddings, funerals and bereavement dinners,” said Anna Mae Nerti.

“Talk to the Presbyterians and the Methodists; they’re very upset,” Norma Pavlinch said of the other religious denominations in Wampum with whom parishioners have shared spiritual services and events. “They want us to stay, too.”

Prior to the facility’s closing, church members were preparing to celebrate the building’s centennial anniversary.

In a 10-year span, St. Monica made improvements to its roof, air conditioning, sound system, electronic bells, carpeting, woodwork and electrical wiring.

The sanctuary was enlarged and remodeled. A new furnace and kitchen appliances were purchased.

When former Bishop Donald Wuerl first began combining parishes, Lamb said, he encouraged the new larger parishes to strive to create a sense of unity and community.

“That sense of community is here in the Wampum building. Our families and extended families have been here since the (church) was built,” Lamb said. “We have children of those who laid the cornerstone and bought the original statues.

“Their children and grandchildren are still members of the parish.”

In a letter to auxiliary Bishop Paul J. Bradley, Maryann Jackson wrote that the church members feel “like it’s a bother to have our church open and the longer it is kept closed, the easier it will be to make it permanent.”

The Rev. Joseph Pudichery, Queen of Heaven pastor, said the parish council met with diocesan representatives last week to discuss a feasibility study on maintaining two church buildings.

He said the nonpublic council meeting will continue the discussion on Wednesday.

Whatever decision is made will be presented to members of both church communities in a printed mailing as well as a parishwide meeting.

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