St. Joseph's Church and rectory at 30 Church St., along with the Holy Trinity School building, are for sale. If they are not sold within six months, the church building will be demolished rather than be used for "sordid" purposes. (File photo)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The St. André Bessette Parish has received permission from the Diocese of Manchester to put St. Joseph Church, rectory and Holy Trinity School building on the real estate market, as part of a plan to consolidate the parish's properties and programs onto the Sacred Heart Campus. The parish has also received permission from the diocese to purchase the building at 277 Union Ave. to be used as the new home of Holy Trinity School.
St. Joseph Church will be marketed with restrictions on its deed which would prohibit the buyer, or any subsequent owner, from using the property for uses that the diocese considers improper for a former church. If no suitable buyer is found within six months, the plan calls for the church to be razed.
Father Marc Drouin informed parishioners of the plan in a letter dated Jan. 31. In the letter, he states that the plan was developed during a parish meeting in December, and that Bishop Anthony Libasci has recently agreed with recommendations provided by the parish.
Those recommendations include purchasing the property at 277 Union Ave. – the former TD Bank building – consolidating the parish onto the Sacred Heart campus, and listing the St. Joseph Church campus, which includes the church, rectory and school.
Drouin was not immediately available for comment. In an interview for an article published on Nov. 7, 2016, he said the St. Joseph Church and rectory required at least $500,000 in repairs, and that the parish has been experiencing an annual deficit of $50,000 in recent years.
The parish expects to spend $500,000 to purchase the property at 277 Union Ave. The parish has half of that amount already donated by parishioners, the other half will be loaned to the parish by the diocese, to be repaid with proceeds from the sale of the St. Joseph campus.
Prior to listing the Holy Trinity School building, the parish will ensure that the property at 277 Union Ave. will be a suitable location for the school, both in terms of city zoning as well as structural considerations.
Drouin's letter speaks to the possibility of the St. Joseph Church being razed. In the letter, he quotes Libasci as writing, "It saddens me greatly that there are many examples of former Catholic churches converted to profane but not sordid use, and then later used for purposes inconsistent with the inherent dignity of a former church. We have developed stringent deed restrictions to help reduce the risk of this occurring, which I have distributed to all pastors. It is very difficult to find a suitable buyer willing to accept those restrictions and I understand that the sale of the Saint Joseph campus is essential to the transition to the Sacred Heart campus. Based on consultation with my staff, I would like you to list the Saint Joseph Church property for sale, with the attached deed restrictions. However, if no suitable buyer is found willing to accept all of the deed restrictions within six months of the listing date, then the Saint Joseph Church property must be razed so as to prevent a future use of the property inconsistent with the dignity of a Church."
Drouin then added his own words, "Now let me comment, nobody wants to see Saint Joseph's church razed. However, the sad reality is that former churches have been converted into bars and other places of unacceptable use. Another factor is that the money from the properties is desperately needed and the fear is that the properties will not sell with those deed restrictions, placing a financial burden on the Parish as a whole... Again, neither the Bishop nor I wish to see the destruction of the church, but we really have no choice but to follow this path."
Warren D. Huse of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society, while acknowledging the challenge the parish is facing, said it would be a tremendous loss to the city to see St. Joseph Church go.
He quoted David Ruell’s 1995 book, “The Historic Churches of Belknap County, 1791-1940,” which asserted, “The design of St. Joseph’s does have that quality of boldness and forcefulness often associated with (Ralph Adams) Cram’s work. The massing of the building is almost sculptural. The street facade is a fine composition. The well designed ornament is carefully placed. The result is a powerful church, and excellent example of the 20th century Gothic Revival style at its best.”
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