By William T. Clew | The Catholic Free Press
Bishop McManus, through Father Richard F. Reidy, diocesan vicar general, put a new proposal regarding the future of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – St. Ann Church before the Worcester City Council and a preservation group on Tuesday.
Father Reidy told the City Council: Remove the proposal to make the church property on Mulberry Street a historic district from its agenda and the agenda of the city’s Historical Commission, and the diocese will not exercise any right to demolish the church building until after January 2018. He said that declaring the property a historic district would limit the diocese’s options to put together plans that could leverage the value of the property to its benefit.
He said the diocese has been talking with Timothy P. Murray, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Area Chamber of Commerce, and representatives of the Worcester Business Development Corp., about making part of the Mount Carmel property available for private development and using the resulting money to finance repairs to the church.
If repairing the 88-year-old church building proved to be too costly, Father Reidy said, a new, more efficient church could be built on the site. That church could retain many of the architectural and historic features of the present building, he said.
But making the property a historic district would limit options the diocese would have to put together plans that could save the church.
Following Father Reidy, Mauro DePasquale, organizer of the Mount Carmel Preservation Society, spoke to the City Council asking them to approve moving forward with the historic district designation. He also said he was looking forward to working with the Bishop and called for him to allow a Christmas Eve Mass in the parish center.
The Council unanimously voted to table until Jan. 9 any action on whether to establish the Mount Carmel – St. Ann property as a historic district. The property includes the church, rectory, recreation and cultural center and the Joe DiMaggio Little League baseball field.
Work to stabilize the front wall of the church because of what architects said were serious problems began earlier this year. Subsequently, as work continued, more problems were found. Because of safety concerns the church was closed May 1 and parishioners were invited to Our Lady of Loreto Parish. The diocese asked the city for permission to demolish the structure but, because the church building was listed in the state’s Cultural Resources Information System, the city Historical Commission denied the request. The demolition request was put on hold until May 2017.
The bishop’s proposal would further delay any demolition until January 2018, contingent on the City Council’s action. That would give the property owners time to explore other avenues for funding.
Father Reidy said, “Frankly, the parish cannot afford and the diocese cannot afford to do that work” that is necessary to make the building safe for occupancy.
Msgr. F. Stephen Pedone, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – St. Ann and Our Lady of Loreto parishes, said Wednesday that he, the bishop and Father Reidy met with Mr. Murray and Craig L. Blais, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Business Development Corp., last Friday.
He said Mr. Murray and Mr. Blais suggested that a portion of the church property could be sold for development and money from the transaction could be used to repair or replace the church. He said Mr. Murray, Mr. Blais and Mayor Joseph Petty were very helpful in planning the proposal.
But the diocese needs time and no emcumbrances in order to determine the property’s marketability, Father Reidy told the Council.
Msgr. Pedone said that he had met with some members of the Inter-Parish Council just before Tuesday’s City Council meeting and told them about the proposal.
Msgr. Pedone said that he had suggested some time ago that a new, smaller church could be built farther away from Interstate 290, using windows and other parts of the present church, and that some of the church property could be leased for development.
Anthony Vigliotti, a Mount Carmel Preservation Society board member, said Wednesday that the group did not know beforehand about the diocesan proposal.
He said the Society is willing to set up a meeting with the diocese to discuss the proposal. He said the Society’s goal is to maintain the parish and church, but “everything is open to negotiation. Everything is on the table.”
On Thursday, Mr. DePasquale said the Society “is still going forward with the request for a historic district.”
He said he wants to “see something concrete, something in writing” from the diocese.