We are sad to report (belatedly) that Boston’s beautiful Holy Trinity (German) Church is up for sale. For decades, it was home to the German Catholic community and Traditional Latin Mass. We wrote about the relegation to profane use of the neo-gothic style 1877 church building back in 2011. The property went on the market in June, but we never got the chance to report it at the time. Here is the For Sale listing. The Boston Archdiocese believes it could sell for up to $4M to a residential developer.
An anonymous BCI reader submitted the following piece about the fate of Holy Trinity, and we are publishing it unedited.
The Stripping of Holy Trinity Has Begun
The appearance at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross of several items that had belonged to Holy Trinity Church in the South End has signaled the beginning of the stripping of Boston’s historic German church. When this winter the Archdiocese learned that the Apostolic Signatura had upheld the relegation of Holy Trinity to profane use with no further possibility of appeal, the Rector of the Cathedral, to which all Holy Trinity property now belongs, began to bring items to the Cathedral, most notably the baptismal font, which was used at this year’s Easter Vigil. Holy Trinity’s former parishioners appreciate the pastoral care they have received from the Rector of the Cathedral and his concern to find suitable homes for the religious items.
Overall, however, the Archdiocese is the poorer – much poorer – both spiritually and financially for the closure.
Is There Room for God in the New South End?
In the increasing spiritual vacuum that is the South End – at least three other churches, both Catholic and Protestant, have been converted to housing there within the last five years – Holy Trinity had a unique draw on young adults who appeared to not be practicing any faith.
One mild Saturday afternoon in December 2005, when parishioners were cleaning the church in preparation for Christmas, a young man and woman passing by gaped through the open doors. The parishioners cleaning the glass doors in the vestibule – doors etched with the phrase “This is the House of God and Gate of Heaven” – invited the couple inside, but only the young man accepted the invitation. He walked about the nave in astonishment – he had no idea this church in his neighborhood was so beautiful – and was incredulous at the parishioners’ explanation that the Archdiocese planned to close the church.
Years later, at the closing Mass in June 2008, a clump of young adults (both men and women) watched the service from folding chairs in the choir loft. They lived in the neighborhood and “always wanted to see the church.”
More like them are coming to the South End. According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority web site, the South End will soon hold almost 1900 new condominiums and apartments, including 62 condominiums in the former Immaculate Conception Church, the Jesuit church across from Boston City Hospital.
Shortly after the closure of Holy Trinity, its adjacent neighborhood was re-zoned as an “Economic Development Area.” The acceptable height of buildings neighboring buildings may now be as high as 150 feet, and the ratio of building size to lot size increased as much as 63%. An example of this is the 11-story office and retail building that has been approved for development a few hundred feet away from Holy Trinity. The building’s developer, Ron Druker, also owns the 1-story warehouse immediately to the left of Holy Trinity and the parking lot immediately behind it. In an area to be transformed into an extension of downtown, is it unreasonable to speculate that he might want to purchase the church and demolish it to build another glass and steel tower on the combined lot?
As things stand now, however, these new residents and office workers will not have the opportunity to worship at Holy Trinity as did generations of South End residents (even those who were not German) before them.
The Costs of Closure
While Holy Trinity Church was open, parishioners paid all expenses, including maintenance and repairs, without any subsidy from the Archdiocese of Boston. Holy Trinity has since incurred well over $350,000 in expenses merely because it is closed. The largest of these are property taxes assessed by the City of Boston beginning in 2011, which have totaled $246,708.99 through June 2014. Maintenance fees, including contracted property management fees with the Newmark Grubb Knight Frank firm and the erection of a barbed-wire fence and other minor repairs due to break-ins by vagrants, are estimated at $125,000 at this time. (The total was $88,000 as of May 2012.)
Now, the cost of stripping the church can be added to the total. The removal of some items before they have a buyer, especially the rare stained glass windows, could cost thousands of dollars. (The high altar and pews have been sold to another Catholic church that will remove them at its own expense.)
Who has paid these expenses? As announced by the rector in May 2012 parish council meeting, the Cathedral Parish, one of Boston’s poorest, has been forced to assume them by taking a loan, which at the time totaled over $212,000. The loan would be repaid from proceeds of the sale of Holy Trinity. In the interim, the debt has been a great strain on the Cathedral Parish. Note that the Cathedral Grammar School closed in June, 2013; this strain may have been one factor in its closure.
Thus, no one has benefitted financially from the closure of Holy Trinity. Expenses have been incurred, not eliminated. Even the City of Boston may not have benefitted; if 15 or more former Cathedral Grammar School students transferred to the Boston Public Schools, the cost of educating them ($17,000 per student according to 2010 figures) would exceed the tax revenues collected from Holy Trinity to date.
The Costs Were Avoidable
Unknown to Holy Trinity parishioners fighting its closure, a vigorous church preservation movement was saving churches around the country, especially in the Midwest. Over 50 of these groups have been at work since as early as the 1920’s, preserving churches that are in some cases the only building remaining in their now-abandoned town. One of the most well-known of these, Saint Joseph Shrine in Saint Louis, Missouri, once so dilapidated that the droppings of nesting birds covered pews and statuary, has been completely restored by a preservation group that has raised over $4 million since 1979. Mass is held there weekly.
As soon as they learned about this movement, Holy Trinity parishioners formed a preservation group in October 2013. Their plan, modeled on the plans of other preservation groups, was to assume all the maintenance costs of Holy Trinity Church in return for the Archdiocese authorizing one Mass there per year. When the offer was made by telephone to Fr. Paul Soper, Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning, he rejected it, saying that parishioners needed to “move on.”
Had the plan been implemented at the time of closure, the Cathedral Parish would have incurred no expenses on account of Holy Trinity. An annual Mass would have eliminated taxation by the City of Boston, as the church would still be in religious use. A group that was able to gather annually would have collected enough money to pay the property management and maintenance fees.
Although the Holy Trinity’s relegation to profane use was upheld despite the founding of the preservation group, another group has had its church’s relegation to profane use overturned by the Vatican. The fact that parishioners of Saint Ann’s Church in Buffalo, New York had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for its preservation was cited by the Congregation for the Clergy (the first appeal step) as evidence that the bishop did NOT have a grave reason to relegate the church to profane use. Money talks at the Vatican.
Is It Too Late For Holy Trinity?
The best hope for Holy Trinity Church to continue evangelizing in the twenty-first century and for the waste of closure expenses to end is to sell it to a religious order. They would staff the church and, with the help of the Holy Trinity Restoration Society, bear the maintenance and repair costs of a 135-year-old building. Proceeds from the sale would repay the loan taken by the Cathedral Parish with the surplus to be used as the rector sees fit.