Rochester parishes try to find new uses for vacated buildings - Catholic Courier

Rochester parishes try to find new uses for vacated buildings

Weeks after the June 30, 2008, closing of Rochester’s St. Monica School, the building’s doors reopened to welcome new students.

The building is now home to a new charter school, the Rochester Academy of Math and Science, which opened in September 2008. The quick turnaround of finding a tenant for the building was partly a result of the parish’s hard work in maintaining the space, said John DeMott, chairman of St. Monica Parish’s building committee.

Though parishioners were very sad to see their school close, he said they are glad to see the charter school occupy the space.

"We wanted something that would benefit the community to go in there," DeMott said.

The charter school is on a three-year lease, and the parish is beginning the process of deciding what to do with the building after that time. One complication is that the school gym also functions as the parish hall, and Catholic Youth Organization sports teams use it five nights a week and on Saturdays, DeMott said.

"Our challenge as a parish is to decide what is an ultimate use for that building," he said. "Right now we are in the landlord business. Is it financially beneficial? The answer is yes. But it’s not our main line of business as a church."

That’s the quandary faced by many parishes throughout the diocese, as they attempt to find new uses for closed buildings that sometimes still house parish ministries. In 2008, 13 Catholic schools and five churches closed in Monroe County. Even as parishes attempt to ensure such buildings don’t sit idle, another goal is to ensure that new uses benefit the community, said Father Daniel Condon, diocesan chancellor.

"I think (parishes) are doing a very good job of repurposing them (the buildings) for good use that enhances the community," Father Condon said.

He cited the example of the former St. Anthony of Padua Church in Rochester, which was sold in 2007 to the Ark of Covenant Church of God by Faith.

"These are really active partners in the ministry in that neighborhood, and they contribute to the quality of life in the City of Rochester," Father Condon said.

Other city parishes also are grappling with the reuse of closed facilities:

* Rochester’s Light of Christ Parish, which comprises the parishes of St. Andrew and Church of the Annunciation, has been in the process of selling the 1967 Annunciation church building, which seats 700 and which Light of Christ currently uses for Mass. When the sale goes through, Masses will move across the street into the former Annunciation church building, which is older and smaller, and has in recent years been used as a church hall.

Father Mike Mayer, pastor of Light of Christ Parish, said the parish underwent a relatively long search to find a buyer for the current Annunciation church.

"We do have a purchase offer," he said. "If all goes through, we’ll close Feb. 1."

The final Mass in the current Annunciation building is scheduled for Jan. 24. Father Mayer said Light of Christ parishioners had hoped to perform a major renovation of the smaller church facility, but had to scale those plans down to a simple painting and cleaning after learning that they will receive less money than they had hoped from the sale.

* Father Paul Tomasso, who served as pastor of Holy Apostles and the former Holy Family parishes in Rochester until the end of 2008, said there has been significant interest in the Holy Family campus since the church closed its doors on June 29, 2008.

He also noted that the former Holy Apostles School is being used by the Rochester City School District to house the I’m Ready program, which offers a central location for students to learn while on long-term suspension. The program offers counseling, academic and social supports.

* Rochester’s Most Precious Blood Church currently is up for sale and is attracting interest, according to Father Kevin McKenna, pastor of the Cathedral Community, which comprised Sacred Heart Cathedral, Most Precious Blood and Holy Rosary Church until the latter two churches closed on March 9, 2008.

"We are relatively hopeful that the property will be sold," Father McKenna said.

A task force of parishioners also is considering what possibilities exist for reusing the buildings on the Holy Rosary Church campus. The search for new uses is complicated by the fact that some of the buildings are being leased to other tenants, he said.

"We have our school (Cathedral School at Holy Rosary) there, and we want to make sure our school continues to flourish," he said.

In addition, the Holy Rosary rectory is being used for All-Star Scholar tutoring, and the former convent is being used by Mercy Residential Services to offer services to pregnant and parenting young women.

* The former St. Boniface School in Rochester may soon be leased to a new school, said Bill Carpenter, chairman of the steering committee for the establishment of Nativity Preparatory Academy.

The academy is a new, independent, Catholic middle school for at-risk Rochester children in grades 5 to 8. The school would be part of the national NativityMiguel Network of Schools and sponsored locally by the Jesuits of the New York Province and the Sisters of St. Joseph.

"Unfortunately, due to all the Catholic-school closings, there were many sites available," Carpenter said. "St. Boniface was not the only nice location we saw, but it was a good size, and the configuration is excellent for us."

The school is scheduled to open in September with 40 to 50 fifth- and sixth-grade students, who will learn in single-sex classes. The school also will feature an extended school day and Saturday classes.

Carpenter said educator Diane Crowley has been recruiting students for an afterschool tutoring program that is to begin in February. The school also is working to hire a principal during January and then will spend several months hiring faculty.

Now that the school has a site, it will begin the process of fundraising for its programs, Carpenter said.

"We are using a model that has been very successful at other schools across the country of sponsoring a child over the course of four years, with the recognition that what they are really doing is providing a child with the opportunity to get a college education," he said.

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