Protesting the razing of closed churches

Protesting the razing of closed churches

The only parish actually to close in Salem, Mass., during the latest round of parish closings in the Boston archdiocese was St. Joseph’s, a French national parish that was less than a quarter mile from two territorial parishes, Immaculate Conception and St. James. It had a school that was moved to St. James and a Spanish community that moved to Immaculate, which is my parish.

The archdiocese subsequently sold the property—which sits on the edge of the downtown and of The Point neighborhood, an immigrant neighborhood of mainly poor working-class Dominicans and Puerto Ricans—to the Planning Office of Urban Affairs, which was established by the archdiocese in 1969 to provide affordable housing and other community improvements. Now the Planning Office has come out with its plans for property, which include razing the building. That idea has brought out the protesters, mostly former parishioners.

I’m sorry, but the building is quite useless for other purposes other than being a church. It is an art-deco style edifice that I called “the blimp hangar.” It’s a big cavernous space that I found cold and lacking in any historic or architectural significance. (See if you agree, here are some photos.) Evidently, there are some who disagree.

Is unique always a good thing?

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  • Domenico:

    Your points are very sound; but the fact remains, this was home for a lot of folks, and there it is—they love their home, and well they should.

    It is all so sad; but even in the best of circumstances, this sort of thing happens. People move to other neighborhoods.

    You are exactly right that trying to build housing while saving the exterior is extremely costly—to what end?

  • As someone whose great project at the moment is recording all the Catholic churches past and present in Australia I have some sympathy for those trying to save the church .. it is sad when churches close especially when it is filled with memories and donations of past and present parishioners. But I agree with Dom, the only point of saving it is as a church. Saving the external fabric is meaningless. Conservation has become another secular God. If the church is closed then let it go and use it for something worthwhile. It always fascinates me when I see a host of non-catholics trying to save a church they never entered simply for its architectural merit. Churches must go where the faithful are not vice versa. I would hope that the crucifix is saved however and perhaps sold or passed on to another parish, new or old.

  • In all the closed churches in Boston, they removed all the removable items, like statues and crucifixes and altars and such to be re-used elsewhere. In some cases, the items have been sent to very poor churches in South America who have nothing.

  • “In all the closed churches in Boston, they removed all the removable items, like statues and crucifixes and altars and such to be re-used elsewhere. In some cases, the items have been sent to very poor churches in South America who have nothing.”, or sold at King Richard’s church supply or eBay to the high bidder.

    It is typical of financial managers in the Catholic Church to waste money on closing a church (even this ugly one).  It is doubly wasteful to try to turn a church into the socialist pipedream of “affordable” housing.


  • Such conversions are easier said than done, especially when you’re not an architect or engineer. It would be very expensive to convert a building that just isn’t that attractive in the first place. Why drive up the cost of the project to save it? I will note that the very nice rectory and the school and convent will be converted to new uses because they can be done much more easily.

  • I would also add that it would even sadder to see the facade of a church and know that it was something completely secular inside than to see it torn down and replaced all together.

  • I totally agree Renee. Better gone than turned to secular usage. I have come across many ex-churches in my travels around the Australian countryside that have been turned into houses and still retain the cross and all. To have a buildign look like a church and find a family living in it is most disconcerting. They are built for worship. When they are no longer needed they should be replaced not as you say “mummified”.

  • I came across an old church now a house in one small country settlement. They had turned the Tabernacle into a mail box. If we must conserve at least don’t use religious things for secular uses. That is not witness but sacrilege.

  • Most modern buildings, American or European, are not built for permanence, but for about a 50-75 year life span, max. The difference is that Europe has plenty of buildings older than a few hundred years old, while we have virtually none.

    It should also be noted that many of those “preserved” European churches are museums, not houses of worship. They too have been mummified. Like the sacred art of museums like the Louvre, they hint at the piety that created them, but they have been divorced from their intended use.