Photo Gallery | Bishop Rozanski tours St. Francis demolition
NORTH ADAMS — Recognizing that the city and Diocese of Springfield are losing "a part of history," the Most Rev. Mitchell Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, visited St. Francis of Assisi Church on Friday to survey its demolition.
"It's a sad, sad day," Rozanski said. "We never want to see a church taken down, but when it's a life-threatening issue we have to act as quickly as possible to do what we can to alleviate any situation that causes danger to somebody else."
In addition to witnessing the progress of demolition, which began on Monday, Rozanski said he traveled to North Adams on Friday to recognize and thank public safety officials and "everybody in the town of North Adams who helped to react so quickly to this."
"We knew that this was a quality of life issue and a life-threatening issue. We wanted this to be addressed immediately," Rozanski said.
Demolition of the church, which has remained empty since it was closed since 2009, visibly accelerated on Friday now that the tallest — and most dangerous — portions of its steeple have been brought down and destroyed. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield announced on Sunday that the entire church was to be razed after its steeple partially collapsed the week prior. A further analysis by diocesan engineers showed the entire structure to be deficient, according to the Diocese.
In the case of St. Francis, the Bishop said he became aware of significant structural issues last week, but noted "once a church building is not used, there always is some deterioration."
Rozanski acknowledged that the Diocese has an obligation to maintain its buildings and "we try to do the best we can, but our first mission in responding to the gospel is not to serve buildings. It's to serve people."
"When we're trying to put our money into ministries, into serving people and all, it's hard to say 'well we need this money to keep up an empty building.' We're here to serve people," Rozanski said, recognizing that churches throughout Dioceses in the Northeast are often as old or older than St. Francis, and require significant upkeep.
"It takes much, much money to maintain them and there's always maintenance issues that arise. The older the structure, the more the maintenance issues."
Though the steeple is no longer in play, Eagle Street and North Church Street will remain closed to vehicular traffic through the weekend to allow the demolition crew's cranes to remain on site. The businesses and residences of the northern end of Eagle Street who had, for five days, been shuttered due to the demolition have all since reopened. Though parking will not be available on Eagle Street, residents wishing to patronize businesses there can park in the adjacent Center Street parking lot and walk.
The 150-year-old church had been stripped of any meaningful relics well before a saw ever hit the steeple, Rozanski confirmed. The Diocese has announced its intentions, however, to make bricks from the church available through a process to be determined following the demolition's completion.
The Diocese has not yet announced a timetable for the complete demolition.
Mirroring comments he's made throughout the week, Mayor Richard Alcombright reflected on the church as "part of our heritage."
"This has a special meaning to me and we just have to hold out hope that what we have left we can preserve," Alcombright said. "I wish we'd had something better to do with it, but renovation of historic structures like this around the country are a challenge."
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.