By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — It was a church that its parishioners fought hard to save, and for many it still hurts them to see it vacant.
Now it stings a little more as Sts. Peter and Paul Church has been sold by the Archdiocese of Boston for $230,000.
“The opportunity was too good to pass up specially at that price,” said buyer Alberto Nunez, who also purchased the former Holy Trinity property on Avon and Trinity streets for $500,000. “The parking lot is so big, I can build two duplexes on it.”
Like the Holy Trinity site, Nunez said he wants to convert the Sts. Peter and Paul to residential housing. Located on a 26,200 square foot lot at 125 Chestnut St., the Sts. Peter and Paul property includes the church, rectory and a parking lot.
Sts Peter and Paul, which served the spiritual needs of Portuguese Catholics, closed in 2004 when the archdiocese reorganized the seven churches in Lawrence into three parishes. Members of Sts. Peter and Paul, along with those of St. Francis and Holy Trinity, joined Holy Rosary to create Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary. St. Mary merged with Assumption to become St. Mary of the Assumption Parish. In South Lawrence, Sacred Heart was closed and members were encouraged to join St. Patrick Parish.
When Sts. Peter and Paul closed, the church became the asset of St. Mary, said Terrence C. Donilon, secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese of Boston.
“All proceeds (as were the expenses) became the proceeds for St Mary’s,” Donilon said. “The parish paid the expenses so the parish received the proceeds.”
St. Mary of the Assumption Parish used Sts. Peter and Paul to celebrate Mass, host retreats, meetings and church festivals. The rectory was used as a house of discernment for Spanish-speaking candidates who were considering joining the Augustinian order. St. Mary Parish stopped using Sts. Peter and Paul in 2009.
“It has been sitting vacant and idle for a few years,” Donilon said. “It became a burden to the receiving parish, St. Mary of the Assumption, due to the expenses, including real estate taxes. Clearly St. Mary’s is not in a position to maintain the property or pay the expenses associated with it.”
The Rev. Carlos Urbina, pastor at St. Mary admitted it became difficult for the parish to maintain the two church sites. He said money from the sale of Sts. Peter and Paul will help pay a loan with the archdiocese.
“It’s always painful when we have to close a church because churches are like home to many, many people, not just four walls,” Urbina said. “But as difficult as it is, people have been able to maintain their faith as we gather around the table of the Lord for the Eucharist.”
“When we market and eventually sell property we are committed to making sure that the sale is good for the church and the local community,” Donilon said.
Holy Trinity, a Polish parish, includes a church, three-story school, rectory and a parking lot — all totaling 28,000 square feet.
Nunez said he is working with an architect to firm up plans on the Holy Trinity property. A charter school was interested in leasing Holy Trinity school, but the plans were scrapped.
“I’m sorry it did not work out because it would have been good to have the school being used again,” Nunez said.
The only other vacant church property locally is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on Lowell Street in Methuen, which has a church, school and convent. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which served the spiritual needs of French Canadians, closed in 2000.
“We continue to market the property and are hopeful we will be able to find a buyer soon,” Donilon said are Our Lady of Mt. Caramel.
Former members of Sts. Peter and Paul are upset that after the church shut its doors and was given to another parish, it eventually ended up being sold.
“This church was built by our ancestors who worked hard and dedicated everything they had to build the church,” Andrade’s daughter, Elizabeth Veloso said.
When Sts. Peter and Paul Church closed, members held a vigil and drafted a proposal asking the Archdiocese to keep the church open.
“As a Portuguese-American, I anticipated that all of my life’s special moments would be carried out here in the city and at my beloved Sts. Peter and Paul Church.” Veloso said.
Her children made their first sacraments at Sts. Peter and Paul, and was hoping they would celebrate their confirmation and weddings there as well. Veloso now attends Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary where a Mass in Portuguese is celebrated once a month by a priest who travels from Cambridge. Her oldest daughter was married at Corpus Christi last November.
“The only consolation that I had was that when we were looking at the pictures taken on the altar, the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul were prominent in the picture and it gave me a sense of being at home in our new community,” Veloso said.
Since Sts. Peter and Paul Parish closed in 2004, Arlinda Andrade has avoided driving by Chestnut Street, because she cannot bear seeing the church she called home since 1952, vacant.
“I feel really hurt. As a small community, the church was where we all got together to pray and celebrate our traditions,” she said.
“When they closed the church, I felt they took a member of my own family. Portuguese people built it and rebuilt it again and then we were left with nothing,” said Andrade, who has organized the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul for more than 40 years.
“We’re still a small group that cares. No matter what they did to us, we’ve remained faithful and never left the church.”