Saint Mary Polish American Society Fighting Effort to Sell Saint Mary Church Property

Last week we reported how Saint Matthew Parish has officially requested from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that Saint Mary’s Church be relegated to profane but not sordid use. That basically means the property and buildings are no longer considered a church and can be sold for other uses.

Saint Matthew Parish wants to sell the property to fund its early Catholic education center at the parish. The parish has already started construction. In addition, the Saint Mary Church property needs repairs and is expensive to maintain.

As we mentioned in last week, there is an organization, the Saint Mary Polish American Society, that hopes to maintain the property and use it as center for Polish culture. The society has sent a letter to Archdiocese explaining its position. It has also scheduled a meeting of current members and those interested in preserving Saint Mary Church for Saturday, April 17th at 1:00 p.m. at Andrew Lannutti Post at 505 Maple Street in Conshohocken.

Below is the letter from the society to the Archdiocese:

March 23, 2016

Office of the Archbishop
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archdiocesan Pastoral Center
222 North 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1299

Your Excellency:

We initially drafted a letter to you to present our proposal to promote greater unity and evangelization of the Catholic faith in Montgomery County. Our efforts were to be done in partnership with St. Matthew’s Parish in Conshohocken at the recommendation of its pastor, Father Thomas Heron, who requested that we write to you to ask for your permission and blessing. Regrettably, circumstances have drastically changed, as we recently learned of Father Heron’s Request for Relegation of St. Mary Church to profane but not sordid use.

First, we would like to give you some information about who we are and what our mission is: St. Mary Polish American Society is a group of former parishioners and friends of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, who have come together in response to the recent parish mergers in Montgomery County, particularly the merger of the Conshohocken parishes into a single united St. Matthew’s Parish. We have selected the name St. Mary Polish American Society both to recognize St. Mary’s Church as the original home of the Polish community in Montgomery County and to honor Mary as our patroness, under the title of Our Lady of Częstochowa, Queen of the Polish Nation.

Our mission is to stimulate Catholicism in Montgomery County by blending its celebration with that of our Polish cultural heritage, which is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. We wish to utilize St. Mary’s Church and social hall in our efforts, including the occasional celebration of Masses that will highlight and celebrate our beautiful Polish traditions and customs. We will allocate all of the money raised from our calendar of Polish and other culturally-themed fundraising events and activities toward covering the maintenance and upkeep costs associated with St. Mary’s Church building.

Almost a year ago, Father Heron announced that he and the Parish Council were seeking productive ways to utilize St. Mary Church property to generate income for the parish. Shortly thereafter, we approached Father Heron to describe our organization and our proposal to spiritually and financially benefit both St. Matthew’s Parish and the Conshohocken community through an increase in funding, parishioners, positive publicity, and a number of events that will create a more enriching parish life. Over a period of several months, we participated in multiple meetings with Father Heron and the members of St. Matthew’s Parish Council to present our ideas and receive feedback from them. While initially welcoming our proposal and suggesting that it be carried out as a partnership between St. Matthew’s Parish and St. Mary Polish American Society, we learned in January that Father Heron wanted to hold off on further discussion until your Excellency had an opportunity to consider and comment on this proposed arrangement.

At our meeting on October 28, 2015, Father Heron commented that neither St. Matthew’s, nor the Archdiocese (to his knowledge) had any imminent plans for St. Mary’s Church building, particularly during the time when St. Matthew’s is renovating their school into a parish center and the Golden Age Senior Citizens Club continues to regularly use St. Mary’s Hall. Father Heron also stated that he would rather see St. Mary’s Church building continue to be utilized, as regular use will keep it in good condition and protect its long-term architectural beauty and worth.

Although our focus is on Polish customs and traditions, we strive to be all-inclusive and welcome people of all cultures and ethnicities to join in the celebration of our Catholic faith. Last April, we held a very successful Easter-themed Social, which emphasized not only Polish foods and Easter traditions, but also celebrated Irish and Italian traditions as well, paying homage to all of the original ethnic groups that now make up the united St. Matthew’s Parish. Our Christmas social last December highlighted Polish and Italian Christmas Eve foods and traditions. These events brought tremendous joy to young and old alike who were in attendance, particularly because of the ability to once again celebrate Mass together in the beautiful St. Mary’s Church. We have received Father Heron’s permission to hold another Easter Dinner Social in St. Mary’s Hall on April 2.

As St. Mary Polish American Society continues to grow, holds more events, and expands our outreach activities, we anticipate that we will reach more people interested in supporting our mission, increasing the likelihood of long-term success. The potential for evangelization is great in Conshohocken, as many young professionals now live in the borough, especially along the revitalized Schuylkill Riverfront. We plan to target this segment of the community through our marketing and outreach efforts, and hope that many will be inspired to “come to Church” for the first time, or return to the Church if they have been away for a while.

As you consider the request of St. Matthew’s Council to relegate St. Mary’s Church, we earnestly ask you to consider our proposal as a promising, faith-filled and unifying alternative. We maintain that the Request for Relegation of St. Mary Church by St. Matthew’s pastor does not present sufficient justification as required under canon 1222 of the Code of Canon Law. In particular, closing a church to use the sales proceeds for financing the construction of a parish center is not a grave reason justifying the closing of a church. Nor is desiring to use the proceeds to repair or remodel other church buildings or to expand parking facilities. St. Matthew’s Parish Council has undertaken an ambitious venture of construction, renovation and repair of the church (built in 1919) and other parish properties. These costs undoubtedly exceed the capital improvements and maintenance costs cited for St. Mary Church (built in 1950). Given the burgeoning population growth predicted for Conshohocken, prudence would dictate keeping more than one church open in an area where there were formerly four Catholic churches.

The relegation of St. Mary’s Church will most certainly bring renewed pain and divisiveness, as it reopens the wounds caused by the parish mergers less than two years ago. We wish to be given an opportunity to demonstrate the long-term sustainability of our proposal and to display how the mission and work of St. Mary Polish American Society will facilitate healing and promote evangelization of the Catholic faith in Montgomery County. We would point out to you that several churches are presently preserved by groups established to care for them, at no expense to the parishes in which they are now located, in your former Diocese of Rapid City South Dakota. We would ask to meet with you and your advisors to discuss our proposal.

Asking Your Excellency’s blessing, we are, Yours respectfully in Christ,

The St. Mary Polish American Society Board

Maryann Stupka, President
Jay Kunaszuk, Vice President
Michael Stupka, Treasurer
Michael Matusheski, Secretary
David Swedkowski, Executive Director

Cc: Reverend Monsignor Paul A. DiGirolamo, J.C.D., Judicial Vicar
Cc: Reverend Monsignor Gerard C. Mesure, J.D., J.C.D., Chancellor
Cc: Reverend Monsignor Daniel J. Cutys, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia
Cc: Rev. J. Thomas Heron, Pastor of St. Matthew Parish, Conshohocken
Cc: Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio