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October 30, 2017

Diocese and City of Holyoke to discuss former Mater Dolorosa Church

REGIONAL
Staff report

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Former Mater Dolorosa Church, Holyoke (IObserve file photo)

SPRINGFIELD – Just hours before a planned public historic district hearing was to take place, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse announced Monday morning that the city of Holyoke would be meeting with officials of the Diocese of Springfield to discuss the possible acquisition of the former Mater Dolorosa Church and friary on the corner of Maple and Lyman streets.

The announcement resulted in the cancellation of local historic district commission public hearing on whether or not the city should place that property into a single parcel historic district. In a reciprocal action, the diocese agreed to hold off on the removal of the former church’s steeple, a demolition permit for which was issued last Friday, Oct. 26.

In a late Monday afternoon statement, Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski confirmed the planned discussions but reiterated concern over safety.

“As a sign of good faith we will temporarily put on hold our plans to remove the church steeple,” he wrote. “However as I have explained to all involved, our concerns over safety remain and so time is of the essence.”

The latest development comes after years of acrimony between some Holyoke officials and the diocese over the future of the former church. Merged in 2011 with the former Holy Cross Parish, the decision was made to have the new parish, Our Lady of the Cross, worship in the Holy Cross Church between Appleton and Dwight streets. That decision was in part due to an engineering report which pointed out numerous safety and structural concerns at Mater Dolorosa. Those findings were affirmed by a separate independent analysis conducted by Bernie Hunt in 2016, just as plans were underway to attempt to sell the former church.

In late January the diocese sought a demolition permit based on Hunt’s structural analysis but was blocked when the city run historic commission placed a six-month delay on issuing the needed permit. During that time the diocese did have discussions with an interested party, but the two sides could not come to an agreement.

In Holyoke, sentiments run high over the future of the former church, with some concerned that the city can ill afford another abandoned building, while others feel the structure represents an important part of the city’s cultural heritage, the mayor citing the latter in his statement.

“The Mater Dolorosa Church is an important piece of Holyoke history, and has great significance to the Polish community throughout the region. Last week, I reached out and met with Bishop Mitchell Rozanski and members of his team in an effort to reach an agreement to prevent the demolition of Mater Dolorosa,” Holyoke’s mayor stated.

He continued, “At the meeting, we agreed to negotiate a path forward and explore the transfer of the church to another entity. Such an agreement would allow another entity to take on the responsibility of preserving the building and addressing the public safety concerns of the diocese.”

Diocesan spokesperson Mark E. Dupont confirmed that a meeting was held last week at the mayor’s request but that the diocese had long kept the door open for all interested parties to come forward.

Bishop Rozanski expressed some optimism over the latest turn of events.

“Our initial conversations were cordial and indicate there is an opportunity here which should be explored,” he stated.  “The diocese has always been open to such discussions and as such I welcome this opportunity.”

A follow-up meeting between the diocese and city is scheduled to take place in the coming days.

STATEMENT BY HOLYOKE MAYOR ALEX MORSE

The Mater Dolorosa Church is an important piece of Holyoke history, and has great significance to the Polish community throughout the region. Last week, I reached out and met with Bishop Mitchell Rozanski and members of his team in an effort to reach an agreement to prevent the demolition of Mater Dolorosa. At the meeting, we agreed to negotiate a path forward and explore the transfer of the church to another entity. Such an agreement would allow another entity to take on the responsibility of preserving the building and addressing the public safety concerns of the Diocese.

My meeting with the Bishop was very productive and both sides see a path forward. In light of this and with respect to the ongoing negotiations with the Diocese, I have asked that the Local Historic District Commission pause its efforts to create a single building historic district. At the same time, the Diocese has agreed to halt the demolition and not to act on the permit that was issued to them this past Friday. I thank the Bishop for working with the city to find a solution that will benefit everyone involved, and ultimately benefit our city and our region. My office will continue to update the public as more information becomes available.

STATEMENT BY BISHOP MITCHELL T. ROZANSKI

As was announced earlier today by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, the diocese has agreed to enter into discussions with the city over the possible acquisition of the former Mater Dolorosa Church and Friary.

Our initial conversations were cordial and indicate there is an opportunity here which should be explored.

The diocese has always been open to such discussions and as such I welcome this opportunity.

As a sign of good faith we will temporarily put on hold our plans to remove the church steeple.  However as I have explained to all involved, our concerns over safety remain and so time is of the essence.