To my great satisfaction, a journalist has given serious coverage to the religious angle in the ongoing story of old churches being converted to new condos. Kathy McCabe of The Boston Globe does an excellent job of wading into the religious and spiritual significance of sacred places of worship being converted into high-end condo buildings.
I have fussed about this twice this year (see Chicago Tribune here and Religion News Service here): the religious and spiritual angle in these stories does not get enough attention. The RNS was a great improvement over the Tribune, but The Globe asks some questions that have gone unanswered until now:
When developer Tony Pace had the chance to turn the 100-year-old former Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ipswich into a luxury condo, he sought the blessing of a parish priest.
“I needed to be sure it was OK,” said Pace, 45, who was raised Catholic in Medford. “He told me that if I treated it with respect, there was nothing wrong with it.”
Guilt about turning a house of worship into a high-end home isn’t limited to crib Catholics.
Karnig Ostayan asked his Armenian pastor to bless the former St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church in Watertown, before turning the church and rectory into 11 upscale condos.
“I want to sleep at night,” joked Ostayan, who attends St. James Armenian Apostolic Church, across Mt. Auburn Street. “Seriously, I know how much this church meant to people.”
The article does a good job exploring the churches’ decision-making process and procedures when they sell off their sacred properties. One also gets the sense that if developers were not grabbing these properties, other churches would not be finding a home in the buildings. In some ways, the condominium developers are stepping up to preserve at least some of the beauty of these buildings.
One also gets the sense that there is a certain amount of spiritual guilt present in this story. Check out the irony of former churches becoming $1 million luxury condominiums:
When selling a church, the archdiocese issues a request for proposals. The goal is to select a buyer whose plan is consistent with church teachings and social mission. The archdiocese pulled out from a deal to turn a Quincy church into a clinic that would have provided counseling on abortion. The former Blessed Sacrament Church in Jamaica Plain is being turned into a mix of upscale, market-rate, and affordable condominiums. The final call on any property sale lies with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley.
“In general, the cardinal likes to hear about things that are here to help people,” Peterson said.
Even if that includes luxury condos, some priced at over $1 million.
“It is providing someone with housing,” said Peterson.
Yes, the church is providing someone with housing. The White House also provides someone with housing.
Okay, enough of my sarcasm. There is also a beautiful photo gallery that goes with the story, which appears in the newspaper’s real estate section. Overall, I get the sense that McCabe understands that faith is important and that these churches as sacred places matter.
The one angle that I am still hoping for journalists to cover here is the community perspective. Once a church and its community has been replaced by condominiums, what institution is expected to serve the community’s spiritual needs? On the other hand, has the community changed to a degree that local church life is no longer a priority? Are any of these new condo dwellers attending church outside their immediate communities? Perhaps the mega-church in the suburbs?
Photos, taken by the author of this post, are of former downtown Indianapolis churches which have been converted into high-end condo buildings.