Application to demolish Winooski church faces opposition

Application to demolish Winooski church faces opposition

The congregation, which owns St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, wants the city’s permission to demolish the closed church. A Winooski resident said she was collecting signatures to try to stop the demolition. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The municipality responsible for St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Winooski has applied for the city’s permit to demolish the closed church, but some plan to formally oppose its removal.

The permit application was filed earlier this month by an attorney on behalf of St. Francis Xavier Parish, another Catholic church in Winooski that oversees St. Stephen’s. The motion calls for a permit for the “demolition and removal” of the Barlow Street church, which closed in 2020.

Joe Handy said earlier this month that his family’s company, Sisters and Brothers Investment Group, is looking to purchase the St Stephen property with the aim of building housing on the site.

Eric Vorwald, Winooski planning and zoning administrator, said in an email this week that the zoning application is now within the required 15-day appeal period, which the application says is set to expire on Jan. 4. Without an appeal the permit would be issued after this date.

But Britta Fenniman Tonn, a Winooski resident who works in historic preservation, said she plans to send a letter to Vorwald that would allow an appeal to the city’s development review board. That letter requires at least 10 signatures, and Fenniman Tonn said she is “very confident” that she will be able to collect the signatures needed to become an interested party in the case.

“It’s very clear that we’re in a real estate crisis and I’m not against development,” said Fenniman Tonn. “I just want to encourage the city and developers to start thinking about how they construct new buildings and look at the impact this could have on significant historical resources.”

St Stephen’s closed in 2020 following the departure of its priest. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington then announced that it would merge St Stephen with St Francis Xavier.

In a letter accompanying the demolition application, Rev. Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Francis Xavier, said the Parish Council voted to demolish the church building “as the best way to honor its sacred character and avoid future litigation over possible uses.” be acceptable to others, but seen as unseemly, immoral, or even offensive to Catholics.”

Catholic St. Stephen’s Church in Winooski. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

In his letter, Royer said that “if the property is sold, much of the proceeds will fund repairs to St. Francis Xavier Church,” which he noted was built in 1870 and “is in need of significant capital repairs.”

Opposition to St. Stephen’s demolition may also come from outside of Winooski. Some people across the state have expressed concerns, citing the church’s architecture.

“It’s a great example of marble construction,” said Ann Cousins, board member of the Vermont Marble Museum.

Cousins ​​said St. Stephen was one of three churches in Vermont built by the architecture team Maginnis and Walsh. The others are St. Dominic’s in Proctor and Christ the King in Rutland. All three are built from Vermont marble. Cousins ​​said the museum is concerned about the fate of the Winooski Church and has advocated for the “respectful reuse” of the same.

According to Fenniman Tonn, Maginnis and Walsh was a Boston-based architectural firm in the early 20th century. She said some of his architectural hallmarks are on display at St Stephen’s.

“If you look at it — its pointed arches, its bell tower — it’s a simple, elegant design that’s iconic in Winooski,” she said.

Royer’s reasons for demolishing the church echo recent comments made by Monsignor Peter Routhier before the Burlington Development Review Board when he argued that the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Burlington should be demolished. The church in charge of this property is also seeking the demolition of a closed church rather than allowing repurposing.

“If we have to close them, the best way to heal is to remove the building, the structure, so the memories are memories of a building used with great joy and gratitude for all the events that needed to take place,” Routhier said the board during a meeting on Tuesday. Burlington’s Development Review Board has not made a decision and plans to reconsider the proposal to demolish the cathedral on January 11.

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Keywords: Ann Cousins, Britta Fenniman Tonn, Catholic Church, Church, Eric Vorwald, Joe Handy, Peter Routhier, St Francis Xavier Church, St Stephen Catholic Church, Winooski, Yvon Royer

Patrick Croley

About Patrick

Patrick Crowley is VTDigger’s Burlington reporter. He previously worked for the Brattleboro Reformer and wrote as a freelance reporter in Ventura County, California. Patrick is a musician and a volunteer firefighter and advanced paramedic.