YOUNGSTOWN - In 2009 following the death of her mother, Sandra Cika made a vow that she would see the family's place of worship - St. Casimir Church - reopen for parishioners.
"She was really a matriarch of the church," Cika said of her mother, Delores.
The efforts of Cika's group, the St. Casimir Society, finally paid off on Saturday night as the church, which was officially closed on Feb. 25, 2012, held a holiday homecoming for parishioners which included a performance by the church's choir.
Damian Tarantino, a member of the St. Casimir Society, left, and Sandra Cika, president of the society and executive director of the Brier Hill Cultural Center, discuss the reopening of the church during a homecoming event Saturday evening at the center.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Ashley Newman
The 106-year-old church was honored with a Polish / American Christmas singalong by the St. Casimir Choir.
"It's very personal for me and I felt like she was here with us tonight," an emotional Cika said immediately after the event.
Now known as the Brier Hill Cultural Center, those responsible for the repurposing of the property along Jefferson Street in Youngstown want parishioners to know they are welcome to come home.
"That's really what tonight was all about," Cika said. "Our group is organized to make sure to keep the church's traditions alive and well."
Fellow lifelong St. Casimir Church member Damian Tarantino watched as the beloved church site sat vacant for nearly two years.
For Tarantino, who co-chaired the event with Cika, the opportunity to step through the halls of the parish he calls home was an opportunity he could not neglect.
"We want to thank Brier Hill for buying (the building) and inviting us to come back and sing with a very heartwarming homecoming," Tarantino said. "We sang here for years for the midnight Mass and, because of them, our choir had the chance to truly come home for the holidays."
According to Cika, the Brier Hill Cultural Center will serve as a place of ethnic celebration for the area. She also serves as the executive director for the center.
Brier Hill purchased the property from the Youngstown diocese in September.
"What makes Youngstown great is its diversity," Cika said. "That's what we want to celebrate here."
That will include monthly breakfast series speaker presentation and an art gallery with rotating exhibits on the property. The next "breakfast series" speaker will take place at the church on Jan. 11.
"We want to use this to discuss all Youngstown history," Cika said.
While the future of the center will include diverse elements of the community, this night was all about the site's former owners.
"It's a joyous event, no doubt," Tarantino concluded.