What do you do with an empty church

What do you do with an empty church? I don’t mean a church without any parishioners, although that is a problem too, I mean an unused church building? My parish is in possession of one right now, as well as a parish school.

Sacred Heart Parish Southbridge, MA

Here is a little background. At one time in my little town, had four Catholic parishes. Each had their own church, their own rectory, three of the four had their own schools and there was even a convent or two. For a while, they were all self-sufficient. But as is the case throughout the United States church attendance began to decline and our diocese realized it couldn’t support four parishes in our town.

The four parishes were combined creating some efficiencies as many of the church functions were consolidated. But there were still four churches, all but one were either at or approaching the century mark. One of these older buildings needed extensive repairs, so many that it would not be cost effective to repair it.  This building was closed and deconsecrated (?) and is no longer used. The attached school is also closed although some of it is used for parish activities. The church now sits empty putting even more of a financial burden on the parish as it still needs to be somewhat maintained.

So what can be done with an empty church? The parish is trying to sell it and they did have a developer who was pretty interested. The developer was going to turn it into an apartment complex. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the developer backed out, for reasons unknown to me. One thing I do know is this money would have been a significant help to the parish.

Every week I look in our bulletin in the section where they post the parish finances. It is very simple, the money that came in last week, the budget for the week and the difference. Only once since I have been regularly attending this parish (two plus years) I have only seen this on the positive side once. Every other week there is always a loss, expenses are more than income. Without looking back through all the bulletins I estimate the average loss per week is $2,000. This comes up to about $100,000 a year. Anyone knows that a business can’t succeed like this.

Back to the empty church. We are not talking about a small church here. It’s a Catholic Church, not one of those small Methodist churches or a Baptist chapel. I haven’t been inside for forty or so years but I remember it was at least as big as the main church is now. Like all Catholic churches built at the same time, it has very high, vaulted ceilings and it wouldn’t be an inexpensive process to break the space down into more manageable sizes. 

Not that it can’t be done. I remember years ago when I spent a lot of time in the Boston area there was a church in Newtown where this was done. It was turned into housing, it might have been elderly housing, I’m not sure. I have to wonder if the town is being cooperative in this. Are they willing to give some incentives to potential developers? My guess is probably not since the town is already financially strapped. And then there is the whole misunderstood “separation of church and state” argument. It would be a shame to see the building demolished but I also wonder if there is any value in the salvage. The building is made of granite and according to the description in the history of the church:

It is a Gothic style architecture adjacent to the rectory facing Charlton Street. It is built of Quincy seam and faced granite and stone. Ornamental towers flank the main entrance at each side. The ceiling was a corbeled pattern with stenciled designs and an open buttressing framework. The main altar was magnificent of Carrera white marble

Would it be worthy of pursuing that option?

It’s funny how lately I have become so concerned about the financial health of my parish. It wasn’t all that long ago I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Now it is constantly on my mind. Isn’t it funny how the more you learn and the closer you get to God the more you begin to care?

One thought on “What do you do with an empty church

  1. Pingback: Catholicism Crisis: The Immigration Debate – The Wayward Catholic

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