By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The Catholic community in the city will soon be consolidated into one parish campus with the closing and eventual sale of St. Joseph Church on Church Street as well as the rectory next door.
Parishioners were notified of the decision by letter last week, in which the Rev. Marc Drouin wrote the purchase of the bank and the sale of the church and rectory will "continue the consolidation process that began in 2010 to create a unified and vibrant Catholic community in Laconia and Gilford."
The purchase of the former TD Bank building next to the Sacred Heart Church on Union Avenue will assure the church of adequate parking, address maintenance issues and reduce the costs of maintaining two campuses. Holy Trinity School will stay at its current location on Church Street, though research is being done to look at potential uses of the bank building for the school, said the letter. Drouin notes that studies have shown that parking is one of the top factors in church attendance.
Half the $500,000 purchase price has been donated by a parish family, according to the letter. The rest of the money is being bororowed from the Diocese. The loan will be paid off through the sale of the St. Joseph campus. No money from the capital campaign will be used to purchase the property.
"It's not a decision we wanted to make, but it is a decision we had to make," said Drouin Monday.
Drouin said the sale of St. Joseph Church is "not imminent," but has been a topic of discussion for about a year. He said a capital plan for the church and the rectory itemized nearly $500,000 in repairs, which he said is conservative.
He added that the parish has realized an annual deficit averaging $50,000 in recent years, and this had depleted the savings account.
In 2010, the New Hampshire Diocese decreed that the three separate Laconia parishes of Our Lady of the Lakes, Sacred Heart Church and St. Joseph Church would be merged into one parish. The parishioners chose the name St. Andre Bessette Parish with the assistance of the diocese.
The consolidation meant the closing of Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Lakeport, which was sold to the Evangelical Baptist Church. The other two church buildings remained open, with Father Drouin celebrating Mass in both.
Both church buildings, located just a few hundred yards apart, have rich histories, with St. Joseph once commonly referred to as the "Irish" Catholic church and Sacred Heart as the "French" Catholic church. The TD Bank building was actually constructed as the home of a French-language high school operated by Sacred Heart Parish.
The rectory next to St. Joseph Church was originally the home of John Weymouth Busiel, founder of the Busiel Mill. His son, Charles A. Busiel, first mayor of Laconia and governor of New Hampshire from 1895-1897, built a house located directly across the street, at the corner of Beacon Street East. The younger Busiel's house was known for many years locally as "the Governor's Mansion."
Drouin said the consolidation of the parish into one campus would create a "unified and stronger parish community" and allow for one priest "to minister to the community much more effectively."
There will be a meeting at noon on Sunday, Nov. 13, at St. Joseph Church to allow parishioners to discuss the future and answer any questions.
St. Joseph's Church and the rectory next door are for sale. All church activities will be consolidated at Sacred Heart Church on Union Avenue. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)