Request for Relegation of Saint Mary Church Sent to Archbishop. Group Hopes to Stop Relagation

On February 29th, Father Thomas Heron of Saint Matthew Parish sent the Archbishop a Request of Relegation for Saint Mary Church in Conshohocken. In 2014, Saint Mary Parish, Saint Gertrude Parish and SS. Cosmas and Damian Parish were merged with Saint Matthew Parish. After the merger, Saint Mary, Saint Gertrude and SS. Cosmas and Damian served as worship sites, but in 2016 have all now been relegated or had the request submitted. Once relegated, the Archdiocese can move to sell the property. Thus far, the Saint Gertrude property is under an agreement of sale to the Borough of West Conshohocken and a Coptic church is considering purchasing the SS. Cosmas and Damian property.

The Saint Mary property is the most valuable. It sits adjacent to an area that is proposed for a major redevelopment. There is also a proposal to rezone the adjacent redevelopment area and we are told the neighboring property owners all want to be included in this rezoning if it occurs.

As you will read in the below letter, the money from the sale would go rehabbing the school at Saint Matthew Parish into a Catholic early education center.

Below is the full text of the letter requesting the relegation:

Request for Relegation
February 29, 2016

Dear Archbishop Chaput,

In July 2014, the parishes of St. Gertrude in West Conshohocken, St. Mary’s, SS Cosmas and Damian and St. Matthews were merged as the newly formed St. Matthew Parish. The clergy and parishioners of Saint Matthew Parish have sought to join the people and legacy of our former parishes in the mission and life of our merged parish. We are proud of our faith and parish. Our Pastoral Council and Finance Committee are committed to unifying the traditions and crafting a long range vision for the common good and future generations of the wider Conshohocken community. Just to name a few examples:

• The SS Cosmas and Damian Feast and procession celebrated in September.
• Blessing of Bread at Thanksgiving with the children reciting Grace before meals in the native tongues of the parish.
• The Children’s Advent Tree Lighting and Christmas Pageant
• Outdoor Palm Sunday Procession
• Easter Dinner celebrating Cuisines of Poland, Italy and Ireland
• Cemetery Masses on Memorial Day at St. Benedict’s and St. Matthew Cemeteries
• Pentecost Procession and Dove Release.

Furthermore statistics suggest a growing parish life: 712 registered parishioners between the ages of 22 and 32, 454 Baptisms in four years at St. Matthews alone. The borough of Conshohocken Council former President , Paul McConnell, provided the following statistics:

45% of the population is between the ages of 18-44(child bearing age). The approval of 1,390 + 300 pending = 1,740 new housing units, which predicts a population growth.

Our pastoral plan conforms with the financial realities of our parish. Currently we requested and received the relegation of St. Gertrude and SS Cosmas and Damian. We are seeking to secure the sale of those properties. The Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils have continued to evaluate the current use and future of our buildings and the financial health of our parish. The economic realities continue to call for difficult decisions for the ministry and stability of the newly formed parish community.

I have sought the consultation of our parish and finance council. I appreciate their input and recommendations. With their support, I am requesting for our parish the relegation to profane but not sordid use of St. Mary’s Church. St. Mary’s Church has served as a worship site for Saint Matthew Parish since July 1, 2014. The church basement currently is used by about 40 Seniors, The Golden Age Club, who meet every Thursday. There have been ten (10) Masses of Christian Burial from February 1, 2015 through February 18, 2016.

The roof, electrical and heating systems are in desperate need of repair to insure the safety of any worship or sacramental gathering. (At the last funeral, the funeral director commented that it was colder in the church than outside.)

On December 15, 2015, with the support of the Pastoral Council, a letter was written to the funeral directors that all funerals at St. Gertrude and SS Cosmas and Damian will be celebrated in St. Matthew Church. As of February 2016 this decision now includes St. Mary’s as well.

The Rectory has been empty since June 2015. The Rectory is no longer needed by the parish. St. Mary’s is situated in a prime development location in Conshohocken. Income from a sale of the entire property, church, rectory and parking lot, would not only enable us to renovate the St. Matthew school building into a thriving Parish Center, it will also allow us to pursue the ability to expand parking facilities, and make necessary improvements in St. Matthew church for our growing parish.

We want to safeguard the financial health and stability of Saint Matthew Parish, reflecting Conshohocken’s current cultural and demographic diversity while preserving its past, facilitate a plan for capital improvements, protect the value and condition of the buildings we use, and ensure that we can meet the liturgical and ministerial needs of our parishioners. With the merger, our parish inherited $1.2 million from St. Gertrude. 

St. Mary totals of all unrestricted accounts including the Cemetery account (except for the restricted Perpetual Care Account and HOF/VOH funds) was $164,598. The remaining $61,550 is for the Perpetual Care of St. Benedict’s cemetery. We also assumed a debt of $342,000 from SS Cosmas and Damian.

St. Matthew has maintained a positive balance in our operating budget. Due to financial constraints, the parish is unable to fund capital improvements for several of the buildings we currently use. These constraints are, in fact, currently depleting the positive gains.

We submit the following serious reasons and recommend St. Mary’s Church be relegated in May of 2016:

St. Mary’s is only four blocks from Saint Matthew church. It has not been a great burden for the faithful of St. Mary’s to come to St. Matthew church to worship; in fact, it has enhanced parish unity. With the departure of Father McKeaney, former pastor of St. Gertrude’s until June of 2006, St. Gertrude’s was twinned with St. Mary’s and Msgr. Grudowski became the pastor of both parishes. This arrangement continued under Msgr. Mesure, who was re-assigned to St. Mathias with the merger of the four parishes in Conshohocken and West Conshohocken.

Saint Matthew Parish has endeavored to keep St. Mary Church functional. The condition of St. Mary will require gutter repair and also repair of water damaged church interior walls at $11,500, and the electrical box must be replaced for church interior lighting at $12,000. Furthermore, the roof, steps and sidewalk area need to be replaced at a substantial cost (approximately $250,000 for the roof and gutters alone). A major cleanout of the Church and Rectory is needed.

The parish simply does not have the resources to continue to repair and maintain the church without negatively impacting the ministries, programs and staffing needs of the parish. In addition, the buildings we currently use for Sunday worship and other ministries are in need of capital improvements that we have begun in phases but need continued income to proceed in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

The burden of maintaining this property increases Saint Matthew’s projected annual costs to $70,000. The re-purposing ofSt. Matthew School begun in phases would resolve many lingering concerns. For example, meeting rooms, office space , conference center, and social hall would enhance the opportunity to unify a still fragmented community. Much needed space would allow the parish religious education program, the early childhood center, and the daycare to grow and thrive.

We have seen a steady decline in the use of St. Mary Church as a worship site. As mentioned before there have been only ten (10) funerals in the last year. The Pastoral and Finance Councils have spent much time evaluating this situation and our options. While there is some sadness, we believe the relegation of St. Mary Church is a necessary path before us at this time. We agree with your recent statement:

“We have an excessive amount of buildings for the number of practicing Catholics today. And it is really important that we do not let all our resources go into maintain unnecessary buildings. We have to make sure the resources are going into preaching the Gospel, and new initiatives of evangelization and re-evangelization”.

We pray that our efforts and requests have been guided by the Holy Spirit for the good of our newly formed parish community and the greater Glory of God. After prayerful consideration and extensive consultation, we request you consider our request for relegation of St. Mary Church.

Sincerely in Our Lord,
Rev. J. Thomas Heron

There is also an effort to stop the relegation of Saint Mary Church. The St. Mary Polish American Society has created a Facebook page and has held at least one meeting that we know of. It is now holding an event on Sunday, April 17th at 1:00 p.m. at the Lannutti Post (505 Maple) to discuss its effort to maintain the Church. From the Facebook event:

St. Matthew’s Parish recently published a letter in their parish bulletin requesting the relegation of St. Mary’s Church to profane but not sordid use, which would pave the way for the eventual sale and demolition of the beautiful St. Mary’s Church building. St. Mary Polish American Society intends to do everything in our power to prevent this from taking place. We invite you to this discussion on the 17th to discuss the current status of our efforts to protect St. Mary’s Church, as well as our future plans, particularly if the request for relegation is approved by the Archdiocese. Please plan to attend this very important meeting to find out how you can get involved.