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Community Group Tours Shuttered Church Hoping For Salvation

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
Communications Dir. Darcie Sosa, with microphone, talks about The Friends of St. Mary's efforts to preserve St. Mary The Morningstar Church on Tyler St. in Pittsfield, Mass. The group, community members and media took a tour of the shuttered church.

A group dedicated to saving a shuttered Pittsfield church once slated for demolition recently got a look inside the deteriorating cathedral.The doors of St. Mary The Morning Star Church opened briefly so members of The Friends of St. Mary’s and other community members could take a look inside.

“This could be our last time going up these stairs,” one committee member said as the doors opened.

Bill Barry, a former Pittsfield city councilor and president of The Friends of St. Mary’s, a committee dedicated to preserving the nearly 75-year-old church, led a tour of the building, which closed in 2008.

Half of the pews in the 9,600-square foot church have been removed, while interior walls and ceilings in side rooms are crumbling due to water damage. The 2.6-acre property that also houses a rectory and convent has cost the Pittsfield Catholic community $200,000 since shortly after it closed, according to the Catholic Diocese of Springfield. In September, Cafua Management, a leading Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee, pulled back on plans to demolish the church to make way for a drive-thru restaurant after community outcry. Nearly 1,600 people signed an online petition opposing the demolition. Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi talked about the potential for reuse with The Friends after the tour.

“It would take an incredible amount of effort, but not to say that it couldn’t,” Bianchi said. “It will take ideas, it will take capital, it will take big hearts, but that’s not to say…buildings like this have been reused. But I think it’s going to require a collaboration between maybe a number of organizations to make it happen. But, not to say that it couldn’t and I think your efforts are just wonderful. And certainly your hearts are in the absolute right place.”

Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Jonathan Butler says the property has been on the business community’s radar thanks to recent media reports. He added that a partnership between multiple stakeholders, perhaps facilitated by the county's economic development agency 1Berkshire, would be the most viable option for reuse.

“There is some green space here,” Butler pointed out. “It’s right on Tyler St. It has nice frontage. There is all kinds of potential. It’s really just matter of we’ve got to engage the right parties that can bring a plan together. Maybe the Chamber and 1Berkshire does have a role to play in that.”

Darcie Sosa is the communications director for The Friends of St. Mary’s. She says the group is launching a marketing campaign on behalf of the property as they wait for Cafua to submit new site plans to the city of Pittsfield.

“Marketing the church for the most part to local and outside potential buyers is probably the most important step,” said Sosa.

Diane DiNicola used to worship at St. Mary’s and serves as the historian for The Friends. She has put together a book telling the story of the parish.

“The pillars…those are all hand done,” DiNicola explained. “There was so much symbolism…over there the anchor and the cross was a symbol of the early Christians. It was stuff like that that I didn’t think there was going to be that much to it. But it’s just a very unique church and it needs to be saved.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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