Parishioners at Holy Rosary Catholic Church are feeling very positive about their progress to save the church from demolition. A spirited community meeting was held on Aug. 29 where information was shared, plans were laid and the sense of unity reinforced.
Among those present was Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, who took a moment to address the gathering. Her voice quavered as she talked about her personal attachment to Holy Rosary from the time she was a young girl.
“I also had the pleasure of working at the Tacoma Urban League just down the street and from my very office, the most beautiful pictures I took were of this steeple and Mt. Rainier,” she said. “It is an icon and I’m standing with you to figure out what we can do to make sure that this church goes absolutely nowhere.”
The large turnout for the meeting was made up not just of church members, but also a good number of local Tacomans wanting to do their part to save the landmark Holy Rosary from demolition. Just a week ago, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain declared that the price tag to fully repair, restore and maintain Holy Rosary is “simply unaffordable” and decreed that the church would need to be taken down.
Parishioners disagreed, and are leading the charge to organize the greater community and formally appeal the archbishop’s decision. They’re raising money too – $2 million to get the church open for worship then $18 million for complete restoration. So far, around $400,000 has been raised in just a week, and this doesn’t take into account pledges that have come in for work materials, labor and such should Holy Rosary move forward with repairs.
The official appeal is being drafted by Massachusetts attorney Brody Hale, who specializes in church law and is founder of the Catholic Church Preservation Society. To date, he has saved 15 church structures and prayers are that he can do the same for Holy Rosary.
Once the appeal is filed next week, the archbishop has 30 days to respond. At the meeting, Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church board member Jonathan Carp explained that the archbishop has 30 days to act in one of three ways: he can approve the appeal (the best outcome), deny it or ignore it. If he denies or ignores it, Holy Rosary parishioners have 10 days to appeal to Rome. If an appeal to Rome is necessary, Carp said the timeline opens up considerably as things move in the Vatican bureaucracy as slowly as would happen in dealing with any governing body.
Raising money is key to saving the church, as Carp explained. “Do the resources exist to restore and maintain Holy Rosary Church? If we can prove that they do, we win. The code of Canon Law says we win,” he said.
Something that could play in Holy Rosary’s favor is that Archbishop Sartain’s decree came just days before he was to step down from his post. Archbishop Paul D. Etienne is now in that position.
“We waited six months for that decree to come down but we knew in July that a new archbishop was coming,” said Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church board member Joy Donohue, noting that Holy Rosary has had no communication from him yet, but she’s hoping for the best.
“He’s younger and has some history of dealing with parishes that either need saving or combined…. He has a bigger reputation for working with the people. What we don’t know is what the archdiocese has to say about him going against another archbishop’s opinion. We’ll see.”
While it’s true that Holy Rosary Church belongs to the archdiocese, the building is on the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission’s list of historic landmarks, which is significant and brings further hope that the city can help save it.
As Woodards told the crowd, there are a lot of steps to go through to even begin the process of tearing down a historically significant building. “It is an historic landmark in the city of Tacoma. You can’t just make a decision to do something without doing what’s required by law,” she said to a cheering audience.
City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight then came to the front of the room to provide details. He said that Holy Rosary was among the first buildings to receive landmark status when the city began the landmark process in 1975. There are procedures to follow when it comes to the fate of Tacoma landmarks and it’s a months-long process.
“For city landmarks, there’s another piece – the landmarks commission, which reviews permits that come through to make sure they are historically appropriate and all measures and considerations have been taken to ensure the best possible outcome,” he said. The process includes public hearings and opportunities for citizen comment, and the commission can ask for additional expert reports as well. McKnight said that no permit applications from the archdiocese have been received yet.
“The entire city is standing with you,” Woodards assured the crowd.
Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church holds public meetings every Thursday. The Sept. 5 meeting, held at the Knights of Pythias Lodge on Broadway, featured an open forum during which those present signed the appeal that will then be hand delivered to the archdiocese offices. Donations and pledges continue to be welcomed, as do sales of T-shirts and yard signs.
We need the general community to come out, offer support, reach out to local business as part of the pledge process, and we’re still taking donations,” Donohue said.
To keep up with all that Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church is doing, “like” the group on Facebook and visit www.SaveTacomasLandmarkChurch.com. Questions and comments can be sent to SaveTacomasLandmarkChurch@gmail.com.