Janina Hejka, 87, is still adjusting to the loss of her husband just four months ago, but she wouldn't miss midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. She was went to St. Thomas a'Becket in Canton on Friday night with her daughter Jeanette Perkovich, and nearly 20 other relatives.
"It's a wonderful evening to celebrate something so foundational, so profound, so joyous," the Rev. Pat Casey told his congregation, asking each to take a moment to decide, "What is it that you are celebrating."
"I love it. It's beautiful," Hejka said of the service, which she has attended annually since childhood.
"Before we came tonight, we had a traditional Polish meatless supper," Perkovich said. "Usually my dad says the prayers, but this time my mom did and she did a good job."
"I'm glad they are carrying on the traditions," Hejka said with a big smile.
Friday's midnight Mass at St. Thomas a'Becket carried multiple meanings for those who attended. Some found comfort, some found joy, and a few of the young members of the congregation, including Alex Howie, 10, had to opportunity for a rite of passage: staying up late into the night.
But it was more than a lark. A new alter boy, Howie assisted Father Pat during the services.
Alex's mother, Cindy Howie, said she's attended the Christmas Eve Mass since childhood. Alex had only attended one before this year, when he was 5 or 6 years old.
"I think I fell asleep during it," he said, and his mother nodded.
"It was a tradition for me, growing up," she said. "Usually at the very end, everyone seems so jubiliant, breaking out in song."
David Funke, 16, of Canton, attended the service as a new usher.
"I was a little nervous," he said at the end of the service. "But it's OK. I didn't lose anything."
Even if he had, the message Father Pat delivered in his sermon is that people have a chance for redemption. Father Pat invoked not God, but George Bailey and Scrooge as examples of people who found God and a new beginning.
After the service, Father Pat said he liked to find ways to make services "a positive experience, so they'll come back."
John and Nancy Spencer arrived together but he worked as a sacristan, meaning he's responsible for the vestments and the sacred vessels used during services.
"I've been coming to midnight Mass every year," he said. "I just enjoy the liturgy and everything else."
Young brothers Jonah and Noah Novak sat next to one another with their parents and sister in the quiet room built for families with young children.
"We didn't make it early enough for the 4 o'clock Mass, and I knew they wouldn't be up in time tomorrow," said Lisa Novak. She said they'd come from Kalamazoo to visit family.
Ron Baj arrived at the church in a suit and tie, but said he and his wife made "a last-minute decision" to attend. An usher for 25 years, Baj volunteered for that job Friday night but said he enjoyed being at midnight Mass because, "there's more of the spirit of Christmas, you know?"
Diana Germain said "I like to help people. I'm a person who likes to help God."
At the end of the service, people lingered, though it was well after 1 a.m. Many stopped to chat with Father Pat in the lobby.
He greeted parishioners and at one point stopped to pray for the safety of U.S. Army Ranger and Corporal Ryan McWilliams, home on leave.