St. Joseph’s in Salem – Abandoned Church, Abandoned Souls

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St. Joseph’s Church was a place of worship for over 100 years for the people in Salem, MA. The original edifice was lost during the “Great Salem Fire.”

This occurred on June 25th 1914, which left over 20,000 people homeless and about 10,000 people unemployed. However, the building was to be rebuilt by the people who worshiped there in 1949. The building itself has a unique architecture and a unique history. However, its slated demolition in late summer or early fall of this year will be a loss for our residents like so many other buildings within our city have been in the past. The demolition of the original Salem Depot, during the 1950’s, where Riley Plaza now sits, is still a great loss today to our city. Back in the 80s former mayor Tony Salvo stated, “Part of Salem died when they did that. It was a big mistake tearing that building down. The old train station was like a castle. It was a landmark.” A landmark that will be remembered with regret and nostalgia. Hopefully the building itself of St. Joseph’s Church will not meet the same fate. A fate that may be generating excitement by Mayor Kim Driscoll and within the Planning Office for Urban Affairs that bought the site in 2005. A fate that needs to be curtailed to ensure that future generations can admire the St. Joseph’s distinctive allure.

St. Joseph’s embodies the Gospel

I remember growing up and always loved the crucifix with our savior that overlooks the entrance to the church. It has been a comfort to me as well as others over the years. I remember my two nephews being christened as infants within the walls of the church and also when my brother renewed his vows with his bride there. Now, I enjoy the same comfort that I felt as a young girl when I look out my window and watch the sun rise and the sun set upon the structure. It is a building that should be renovated instead of torn down so the sun may continue to shine upon it. Even the Committee on Divine Worship through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000 agrees that church architecture does embody the Gospel and if razing an old church is to take place then special care is needed in the treatment of the building which is “dignified and beautiful.” My question is then if Catholic bishops believe a church building to house the embodiment of the Gospel then why would a church that has been on the same property for over a 100 years be destroyed? My perception which I am sure is shared by many others can be defined in one word – sacrilegious.

Churches converted into homes

Renovation of churches into living spaces is something that would be a perfect solution. Retaining most of the original architecture while at the same time utilizing the abandoned building into a place where people can reside is the answer, yet it is an answer that needs to be viewed with respect to the building. Renovations happen globally of former churches and having the artistry to convert a church into a home takes someone who is creative. Perhaps the planning board, the architects, and the developers that are designing the renovations for lower Lafayette Street need some ingenuity added to the ingredients to improve an entrance to downtown which is considered a key entrance. And the key to handling St. Joseph’s Church is to have a new outlook on the building instead of just tearing it down.

The Historical Commission will begin a review next month concerning the church building and attempting to offset its total loss. A local lawyer John Carr is working pro bono as well as Emily Udy, preservation project manager for Historical Salem to save the architectural integrity of the building. Since 2004, St. Joseph’s Church has been on a list of the city’s most endangered historical places; a list that should be taken notice of by those involved in this project such as the politicians, architects, developers, and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. Decisions need to made based on the people who live in the area and though the church building is abandoned, the souls of constituents should not be abandoned. The souls of Salemites should be considered and together we can make the destiny of the building that use to house St. Joseph’s Church remain intact.