Former Sacred Heart Catholic Church now secular Sacred Heart Cultural Center as it is today, with recently celebrated Protestant wedding there:
In a previous blog post I lamented the possibility of Holy Innocents Church in Manhattan being closed. It seems the sole reason would be the number of other historic churches in the vicinity, perhaps an antipathy toward pre-Vatican II (and now post Vatican II) ways of doing things liturgically and otherwise by chancery personnel, but more likely the mega bucks selling this property to secular business interests would garner.
Apart from those reasons, we know that around the country, but especially in the northeast and mid west inner city parishes once founded by early 1900's immigrants from western and eastern Europe are no longer viable. The Catholic population has moved to the suburbs and these immigrants have been mainstreamed in their progeny.
So in many city urban cores, there could be several magnificent Catholic edifices within blocks of each other and no resources to maintain them either as parishes or shrines.
Augusta, Georgia had a similar albeit it different scenario in the late 1960's. Downtown had three parishes all within a six to 12 block area. Once was an historically boundary-less black parish with a thriving elementary and high school. They had about 400 families.
The Jesuit parish, Sacred Heart had a thriving parish of about 600 families, an elementary school and money in the bank.
The oldest parish, known as St. Patrick, but historically and officially named The Church of the Most Holy Trinity, had only a historic church building completed in 1863 and a 1950's ranch style rectory next to it. It only had about 70 families. The church was in disrepair.
In closing two of the parishes, it was decided that the black parish's church was way too small for a larger merged, integrated parish. Sacred Heart had a complicated roof that leaked and other structural issues continually needing attention. Most Holy Trinity had a simple roof line, was the oldest, easiest to restore and maintain and had the above ground tombs of 12 priests and the second bishop of Savannah (John Barry) entombed below the altar in an unfinished basement/crawl space.
Most Holy Trinity was chosen. Sacred Heart was closed and a for sale sign placed in front of it and Immaculate Conception Church property was maintained, not as a parish, but the elementary school for the merged parishes. Immaculate Conception was about one mile away from Most Holy Trinity in an historically African American neighborhood.
Most of the parishioners of Sacred Heart were enraged that their church, the most viable was closed and put up for sale. So a significant number of them either left the Catholic Church, cease practicing or attended Mass on the "Hill", Augusta's first suburban parish. Many moved to west Augusta and joined a new parish there also.
Eventually, Sacred Heart was sold, but it took 16 years to do it. It was sold to a entrepreneur philanthropist, a Methodist, whose Episcopalian wife had a special interest in the building.
They formed a board of trustees to completely restore the church, rectory, school and convent. The rectory became an office building for arts in Augusta. The school became the headquarters for the Red Cross and the convent the head quarters for the girl scouts.
The church itself, with pews removed, became a "cultural center" that can be rented out for any use whatsoever, usually wedding, receptions and other civic events. It has been quite successful.
My question, in terms of thinking outside the box, is why can't bishops around the country promote this sort of thing with Catholics given the lease to
the building, commissioned to form a board of trustees, that is broad,
ecumenical/interfaith and secular, and this board of trustees be responsible financially and otherwise to restore, maintain and manage the facility as a cultural center for broad use?
Why couldn't the building such as Sacred Heart in Augusta be used exactly for what it is used today,
but still under Catholic control through a ecumenical, interfaith,
secular board of trustees?
So, my thinking outside the box for these kinds of historic, magnificent Catholic church buildings could allow for the following other a board of trustees controlled scenario:
1. The Blessed Sacrament would not be housed there.
2. It would be managed by a manager answerable to the board of trustees
3. It could be rented out for all the same purposes it currently is to include non-Catholic weddings whether secular or religious.
4. Catholics would be allowed to have nuptial liturgies there including within Mass as well as Requiems.
5. Catholics could use it for other religious purposes, special Masses, anniversaries, novenas, Liturgy of the Hours in Solemn Sung ways, ecumenical/interfaith celebrations and the such on a first come, first serve basis in terms of scheduling.