Far away, treasures of faith resurrected
By Dennis Shaughnessey
LOWELL – A glimpse through the glass doors at the Sacred Heart Church on Moore Street reveals and empty sanctuary, several broken church pews, sawdust, rubble and little else. Former parishioners of the church, which closed its doors in 2004, have been dispersed to other churches in and out of the city. They lament the closure and wonder about the future of the building as trucks arrive and empty the church, piece by piece.
“It’s sad. They closed the church three years ago and it still hurts,” said longtime church member Carol McCarthy, who served at the church and was the principal at the Sacred Heart School. “But what hurts even more is that we don’t know what’s going to happen to the building.”
But there’s a silver lining behind the dark cloud: Many of the artifacts that have been removed have made their way down to South Carolina, where Rev. James Crowley is building a new church. Crowley grow up on Bourne Street, right around the corner from Sacred Heart Church. He attended the church and the school and was ordained at Sacred Heart in 1985.
“When I found out the church was closing, I made some inquires with the Boston Archdiocese and I discovered that there were many items available and the asking price was negligible,” said Crowley, who was assigned to the St. Paul The Apostle Church in Spartanburg, S. C., three years ago.
Crowley, 57, flew up to Lowell last year and secured the altars from the upstairs and downstairs sanctuaries. He got the stations of the cross and some of the pews. He also secured the ornamental wall and stairs that surround the back of the high altar.
“It’s a beautiful centerpiece and I am so happy to have it,” Crowley said in a phone interview from his parish. “Unfortunately, the churches in the North have had to downsize for various reasons and I know it has been traumatic for many people, but it was a great opportunity for me to bring a part of my past down here with me. I am thankful to share in the patrimony of the Boston Archdiocese.”
The artifacts are in storage until the new church is built, Crowley said. Kathleen Heck, special assistant of reconfiguration for the Boston Archdiocese, said statues, lights, stained glass and other pieces have either been placed in storage or have been sent to other churches in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire. A good number of pews were also sent to churches in New Orleans, which were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
When asked about the broken oak pews that could be seen from the front steps of the church, Heck explained that a few of them were broken as workers unbolted and dismantled them. Some of the pews will go to the Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church in Lowell and some are heading down to churches in the Dominican Republic.
As for the building itself, its future is uncertain. The roof leaks and the heating and ventilation systems need to be replaced, according to Heck. The impressive edifice, as well as two adjacent buildings, are up for sale. Its estimated worth, according to Michael Harkins Real Estate in Lowell, is several million dollars.
“It’s zoned for residential use and I guess somebody could buy it and put some single family homes there,” said Harkins, whose company is handling the sale. “Any prospective buyer would have to submit a request for proposal with the city and outline what they wanted to do. Right now, it’s not spoken for.”