LACONIA — In the wake of the Diocese of Manchester filing for a permit to demolish St. Joseph Church, a group of residents has renewed its pledge to fight to save the building.
The St. Joseph Catholic Church Preservation Society was formed in response to Bishop Peter Libasci’s stated intention to tear down the stone church built in 1929. The property is being sold as part of efforts to consolidate the St. Andre Bessette parish into one campus.
The Diocese filed for the permit late Tuesday, the day after city councilors voted to take steps to stall the building’s demolition. The city has been rushing to set up a historic district that would allow it to deny a request to raze the church, but Tuesday’s filing by the Diocese made the issue moot.
City Manager Scott Myers said Thursday the application for the demolition permit means the property is grandfathered under the current zoning ordinance, which allows the city to delay but not deny a property owner’s request to raze a building.
“The Society is seeking to assert its right under Canon Law by insisting there is a legally protected and preferred option to demolition through designation of the church as a Roman Catholic shrine, oratory or chapel in perpetuity,” reads a statement issued Thursday.
While the group hopes to reach a timely and amicable agreement with the diocese, it is prepared to appeal the bishop’s decision to the Vatican.
Under the provisions of Canon Law, the society has provided the Diocese with written protests of the decision. On Thursday, the Society said it would deliver a follow-up letter to Bishop Libasci appealing his decision to bulldoze the church, along with a comprehensive plan and commitment to preserve it.
“It is our hope that the Bishop will reflect on his decision, hear the outcries of opposition and begin to truly feel the pain his decision is causing our community. We pray he receives the guidance necessary to preserve this sacred space for future generations,” said society member and parishioner Donna Hosmer.
Bishop Libasci is in Baltimore at a spring meeting of U.S. bishops and could not be reached for comment.
The permit application lists All-Ways Wrecking of Bristol as the contractor. The work is to begin in August and conclude by October. It would include demolition of the building at 30 Church St., with debris being removed to a state-approved disposal site. Concrete would be broken up, then crushed and used to grade the cellar hole for future use.
The diocese has declined to identify the proposed buyer of the property or how the site will be used.
Bob Smith, a parishioner and member of the society, Bob Smith, who along with Paul Normandin established the Holy Trinity Endowment to fund operations of the state’s most northern Catholic school, had spearheaded efforts to negotiate an agreement that would preserve the church.
“The outpouring of support for our preservation efforts from the entire faith community shows the pain, but also the resolve, to preserve St. Joseph Church. It’s devastating to think that once demolished, St. Joseph is gone forever and all the remains in a hole in the ground,” Smith said at a June 3 meeting.
Society members say they will move forward with the proposed historic district to protect other buildings from being targeted for destruction.