Time and space make it impossible to summarize the now 5-year battle between the parishioners of St. Laurentius and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is a battle that my family has gladly participated in and, to some extent, helped lead. At many turns, this battle has forced us to accept scorn from some long-time friends and neighbors who don’t recognize that we are just trying to preserve the same things for our family that they enjoyed when they raised their children.
Many within the AOP hierarchy view us as enemy number one, despite the fact that my wife has dedicated her entire adult life to Catholic education and the last 8 years to educating kids with significant economic hardship. You may say that we should turn our backs on this institution and walk away. However, that’s hard to do when you are absolutely, totally right. In this battle, we are on God’s side. In an email to other priests, the Archbishop of Philadelphia called me “truly evil.” While I personally disagree with this man on many things and have worn this description as a personal badge of honor, the fact that his man called me “truly evil” based on efforts trying to stop his organization from intentionally demolishing a church with intrinsic historical and economic value and foisting the cost of that willful demolition on our already-struggling parish tells you much of what you need to know about this fight.
Some may suggest that the people of St. Laurentius Church and School should just move on and accept the AOP’s decisions. However, those decisions are not only morally wrong, those decisions have been demonstrated to be fiscally irresponsible. An immutable fact is that our efforts to preserve St. Laurentius from demolition will serve to save the AOP and Holy Name Parish over 1 million dollars. To add perspective to this, the same AOP has been charging the people of Holy Name parish for the high-priced attorneys that fought the historic designation, baselessly under the actual law at the Historic Commission. Though it defies logic, reason and Jesus’ teachings, the AOP is seething with delight at the thought of following through on its bizarre desire to demolish St. Laurentius.
Leo Voloshin is a developer who lives in Fishtown with his wife and children and is proposing to convert the church into a residential apartment building. He has successfully converted other older buildings and adapted them for reuse. His plans are publicly available on this site. Take a look at them for yourself. I thank him for getting involved to preserve St. Laurentius. Historically designated properties, especially one in the condition of our church, are a risky endeavor and he is taking on that risk. He has put together the only feasible plan to save the church, through an adaptive reuse that will ensure St. Laurentius’ continued presence here and provide fiscal stability for our parish and school. As with all real estate developers, his interest is economic at first, but it also includes a desire to preserve this church. He is only one who put his money where his mouth is and stepped up to preserve St. Laurentius. I am thankful he has gotten involved.
People are concerned about parking. I am too. I live on a street where the people across from me are all in the ground and I can’t get a spot for our one car anytime after 6pm. However, parking concerns should not destroy this project. We watched as factories on Eyre, Columbia and Palmer have been remade as residential projects that enhance the community. Are we going to forgo the same type of conversion for a majestic piece of architecture like St. Laurentius merely because of parking? Believe me, there are nights when I curse and scream and drive around for another ten minutes looking for a spot. Would I do that to ensure that St. Laurentius is preserved?
Of course I would. I’m sure that some people say they’d rather it come down, but the conversation about parking is separate from one of development. Walk down your block and count the number of houses on your block. Count the available parking spots on your block. On very few in this community are they equal. On almost every block, there are more houses than parking spots. Should we deny the ability of people to own more than one car in a household? That has more of an impact on parking than any apartment development. FIshtown needs a parking conversation, but it is not at the expense of the plans to save St. Laurentius Church. Just think, if the AOP leadership of destruction gets to follow through on its plans, what do you think will happen to the abandoned lot? A rose garden? A playground? Neither of these options are fiscally possible. The AOP will put that lot up for sale to pay the demolition bill, and I guarantee you it will be residential development that pales in comparison to the architectural marvel it would replace. Oh, by the way, that development will without a doubt add to the parking woes.
A great group, dedicated people, calling themselves “Faithful Laurentians,” have been putting forth a quixotic, unfunded effort to turn the space into a community/religious entity. I admire their hope and continued faith, but their hopes have been summarily rejected by the AOP now and were rejected two years ago. Tim Breslin, who passed away last year after putting much of the last two years of his life into this fight even going so far as to initiate an appeal to the Vatican that we have continued, offered to take over St. Laurentius Church for the same present-sale price of $1 in 2014. The AOP rebuffed him, despite the fact that Tim was a community builder who had developed other properties in Fishtown. He wanted to preserve the church in the same way that this group does. Believe me, if the Faithful Laurentians plan was a funded or even fundable option, I and everyone else involved in the actual preservation battle would be all for it. However, the Faithful Laurentians realistic plan for two reasons: 1) There is no money for it and 2) The AOP will not allow it, especially because their plan calls for it to be preserved as a Catholic space.
I have no doubt that I and many others who have done nothing but stick our necks out for St. Laurentius Church and School will be slandered in the posts below and probably at this meeting tomorrow. I have no doubt that ignorance will attempt to take over this meeting. I also have no doubt that this plan is the only way to save St. Laurentius Church from a sinful, maniacal, un-Christian plan by the AOP to destroy it.
I have put a lot of time in for this community that I am proud to call home. I say this because I want you to view my efforts and my opinion on this matter from the perspective of that service. As with anything I have ever done or any volunteer in this community has done, I want my neighbors to live in and my children and yours to grow up in the best Fishtown possible. I believe that this conversion of St. Laurentius is the only way to achieve the preservation of this historic testament to the people who came before us, sacrificed in the face of prejudice and built a true icon for generations to admire.
I urge you to support the conversion of St. Laurentius church.