LACONIA — On Tuesday, around lunch time, Patty and Steve Giguere stopped in to St. Joseph Church to light candles and pray. They chose that church because it’s more convenient to their home, but they sometimes choose to worship at Sacred Heart.
Come fall, the Gigueres won’t have a choice, as Laconia will be down to just one Catholic church. On Sunday, Father Marc Drouin announced that St. André Bessette Parish plan to sell the St. Joseph lot, which includes the Busiel mansion and the Holy Trinity School building. Before the sale goes through, though, the church, which was built in 1929, will be torn down.
The razing of the church comes at the direction of Bishop Peter Libasci, Drouin said. Though Libasci was not immediately available for an interview, the Diocese of Manchester provided a letter Libasci sent to Drouin in January 2017, after the latter informed the Diocese of the Parish’s intention to sell the property in order to consolidate parish activities onto the Sacred Heart campus.
In that letter, Libsci granted permission to sell the property with the condition that the church be demolished. He wrote, “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. Therefore, we need to ensure that the building is razed in this particular case to its foundation.”
The parish is not disclosing the identity of the purchasing party, citing the buyer’s desire to reveal themselves on their own terms. Nor is known what the purchaser plans to do with the property.
In an interview on Monday, Drouin said the parish planned to hold a closing ceremony for the church in June or July, and that the demolition will take place during the summer, with the sale of the property to be completed in the fall.
Steve and Patty Giguere moved to Laconia, from Manchester, a few years ago. The move was a homecoming for Steve, who grew up as part of Laconia’s French-Canadian community. As a boy, his home church was Sacred Heart, where mass was delivered in French, and St. Joseph was known as the “Irish church.”
Patty said she feels comfortable in St. Joseph.
“They’re both nice, I like this one, the smallness,” Patty said. With its stone exterior and dark woodwork, it reminds her of New Hampshire’s mountains.
“I hate to see it demolished,” Steve said.
“It will probably be (replaced with) something more modern, that’s the way things go,” Patty added.
Hurts like crazy
While the demolition of the church is something the Gigueres see as a shame, there are others in the parish for whom the planned event will feel like a personal loss.
“I was raised in that church, I was baptised in that church, I made my first community, first confirmation there,” said Tina Hickey, who lives in Belmont now but was born and raised in Laconia. It’s a difficult topic for Hickey to discuss, and at times her emotions moved her to tears.
“My whole family went to school there, my parents were married there,” she said. She was married there, too, and so were her aunts and uncles. “The only one out of our family who won’t be able to be married there is my son.”
In 1975, Hickey’s grandfather died, and her fiancee was killed a few months later. St. Joseph was the place she went for solace, where she asked the questions that couldn’t be answered anywhere else.
“There’s a lot of history there, it does hurt like crazy to see somebody tearing it down. The more I think about it, the madder I get,” Hickey said. She said she understands why the parish needs to sell the church, but she wishes the building could be left standing.
In any case, Hickey said she won’t be taking communion at Sacred Heart. Her mother even changed her plans for her own funeral because she doesn’t want her funeral mass to be held in the “French church.”
“I am not French-Canadian, I was not born and raised in that church, I was born and raised in St. Joseph. I can not go to that other church because that is not my church,” Hickey said.
Loss of a landmark
Local economist Russ Thibeault said he was saddened to hear about the pending demolition.
“Speaking personally and as a former parishioner, I think it is disheartening to think that it will be demolished because it is a landmark,” Thibeault said.
In terms of economic impact, leaving the church standing after the sale wouldn’t mean much to the city, he said. Depending on what the new owners plan to do, the change could mean an economic boost to the city.
However, things aren’t always measured in dollars and cents.
“In terms of cultural significance, historic significance, that is a landmark building and its loss is a significant event,” Thibeault said. “It’s not tucked away at all, it’s a very prominent spot. That accentuates the loss aspect of this. And we don’t know what’s going to come on the heels of that church. Whatever it is doesn’t have that cultural and historic significance. It may be what replaces it will have a significant economic impact on the town, but it will not have the same cultural and historic significance.”