Saint Joseph Church vigil

Supporters joined hands and encircled Laconia’s St. Joseph Catholic Church in an effort to save the edifice from being torn down.

LACONIA — In a public display of unity and community, residents joined hands and encircled St. Joseph Church while calling on the Diocese of Manchester to continue to explore ways to save the building from the wrecking ball.

The announcement by the Diocese of Manchester that the sale of St. Joseph’s Church that would have resulted in its demolition has been called off, is being welcomed as good news but not a guarantee that it won’t be razed.

Last month, the diocese said it and the potential buyer of the St. Joseph Church property had decided to cancel their agreement. Church and city leaders were to meet and discuss the possibility of subdividing the parcel, so the building can be preserved, but other land around it can be sold.

“We remain hopeful that such a solution will allow the church edifice to remain,” diocese spokesman Thomas Bebbington has previously said.

Some 150 people gathered at the historic stone church in the early evening Sunday in a show of solidarity and support for preserving the 1929 building after it is decommissioned. Although the sale has been stopped, the demolition permit is still in place, which worries many people who fear it could still be torn down.

“I think it’s important to save a piece of architecture. It’s part of the community,” said Kevin Hayes of Gilford. He doesn’t oppose the closure of the church, knowing that the parish can’t afford to maintain two campuses in such close proximity, but doesn’t want to see it torn down.

“St. Joseph’s Parish has been part of our lives for 38 years, since we moved here. We’ve had family weddings and funerals here, I was in the choir and a lector,” said Tara Columb, a Laconia teacher who was among those in the crowd.

“I’m not even Catholic, but I like the people and Father (Marc) Drouin,” said Kathie Brown, who said she lives just around the corner from the church and appreciates the building’s beauty.

Mary-Ellen Azea said she is not a member of the parish now, but was for many years. She was baptized had her first communion and her first marriage all in the church.

“It’s just sad that they want to tear down this building. I think it should be kept aloft,” she said.

“Every time I approach City Hall, I look up to see this magnificent structure in the city’s skyline. We cannot move forward until we save the past. It is fitting that in this journey to save it we are here tonight,” said City Councilor Mark Haynes, who represents Ward 4, and who has been a vocal proponent of efforts to preserve the church building.

“This is an endeavor of the heart and of the head and for me it has touched my soul, frankly, said,” Councilor Andrew Hosmer of Ward 6.

“I am so proud that we have joined not just as Catholics but the whole faith community. It speaks volumes about unity and community,” he said. He told the crowd who gathered on the front lawn at the church that their unity has magnified their voice and that the diocese has been listening.

Those attending the gathering were invited to take a white carnation, a symbol of love and devotion, and place it at the statute of St. Joseph that stands in front of the church. The juniper bushes that flank the icon were soon dotted with the white blooms. They also joined voices appropriately singing, “Will the Circle be Unbroken.”

The parish’s divestment of the Church Street property that includes the rectory and the building that previously housed Holy Trinity School, is part of the effort to consolidate the activities of the local Catholic church.

Father Drouin has previously said the parish was losing $50,000 to $70,000 annually by trying to support two campuses in the city, and that selling the downtown parcel would help push the books nearer to the black.

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