Why not give the church to group?
My first reaction to the Allentown Diocese’s offer to sell the former St. Katharine of Drexel Catholic Church (St. Michael’s) for $50,000 to a group hoping to save the building is: Why?
Why not give the building to the group, requiring, of course, that the magnificent edifice be used for an appropriate nonprofit purpose? The diocese says it can’t be used to say Mass.
Didn’t the church founders and their progeny, along with parishioners who came after them, already pay, not only in financial ways but in blood, sweat and tears?
According to diocesan spokesman Matt Kerr, it would be unfair to buyers of other shuttered churches if the diocese handed over this one for free. He said since the building needs structural and cosmetic repairs, it is being marketed “as is” and offered at a reduced price from its appraised value.
It has been a sad time for Panther Valley Catholics, who have seen their once vibrant parishes emasculated and merged into one — St. Joseph’s Parish in Summit Hill. (Full disclosure: I am a Summit Hill native, and St. Joseph’s was my home parish while I lived there as a boy and young man.)
Jim Hrubovcak, one of the organizers of the Coal Region Catholics for Change, claims that the nearly 1,200 families which make up the merged church from the four communities of Coaldale, Lansford, Nesquehoning and Summit Hill are too many to be properly served by just one church.
He believes there should be one for each community, just as there was prior to the current configuration. “The little guy is getting kicked in the stomach,” he said of the diocese’s decision-making.
Rev. Allen J. Hoffa, pastor of St. Joseph’s, said the number of parishioners is readily manageable and that he has served in much larger parishes, some nearly or more than three times larger, such as St. Thomas More in Allentown and St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Palmer Township. Kerr also named two Schuylkill County parishes — in Pottsville and Schuylkill Haven — with more than 1,200 families. He also said St. Joseph’s in Jim Thorpe has more than 1,000 families.
Both Hrubovcak and fellow organizer Joe Pavlis agree that the diocese has shown a lack of transparency throughout this gut-wrenching process.
“The attitude of the diocese has always been: Get over it, move on, shut up,” Pavlis wrote in a recent letter to the Times News.
Pavlis said the group is definitely interested in the diocese’s offer to acquire the church but questions whether it can make a decision by the Aug. 1 deadline.
The problem is that the group will not be able to inspect the church until religious artifacts are removed. Pavlis also said the diocese will not disclose the results of an engineering report.
Kerr said the diocese may be able to get the engineering report to the group before it makes the tour. Removal of the liturgical items is “still underway, and once that is complete, the group will be able to tour the building,” Kerr added.
Will parishioners and benefactors donate to save the shell of a once religious sanctuary that no longer has an altar, stained glass windows, pews and other items that make up a church?
Pavlis, who lives across the street from the church, said group members met with Father Hoffa several years ago and offered to maintain the building and grounds at no cost. A short time later, Pavlis said, the group received a diocesan letter warning members that if they went on the property without permission they could be charged with trespassing.
Hoffa disputed this account, saying the “do not trespass” letter was mailed before the meeting and was sent because a member of the group had been unsafely entering the church grounds and opening a window to assess the inside temperature of the building to determine whether it was being heated.
Hoffa said with the construction of scaffolding, there are safety and liability issues, which is why the diocese must maintain a “no trespassing” policy.
Pavlis wonders why the church was viewed as structurally sound a decade ago but then found to be otherwise a few years later. Kerr said the engineering studies done prior to a previous consolidation in 2008 were not as extensive as the more recent study, when additional issues were found.
Closed in 2016, St. Katharine’s traces its history to 1891 when it was conceived as the “Slovak church.” St. Katharine’s Parish was formed by the consolidation of six older neighboring parishes including St. Michael’s, St. Ann’s and SS. Peter and Paul parishes, all in Lansford, and St. Mary of the Assumption, St. John the Baptist and Sts. Cyril and Methodius parishes in Coaldale.
I have this suggestion to both sides: Why not get together, face to face, in a spirit of good will and collegiality, ask and answer all existing questions and try to come to a mutually agreeable resolution? That would be the Godly thing to do.
By BRUCE FRASSINELLI | firstname.lastname@example.org