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LEWISTON, Maine — Central Maine Healthcare has purchased the long-vacant St. Joseph’s, the oldest Catholic church in the city, and plans to tear it down.
In its place will be 50-60 parking spaces, said Chuck Gill, CMH’s vice president for public affairs.
“It’s a vacant building that’s in bad condition right now,” Gill said Tuesday. “It can’t be used for anything, at least the church itself.” The rectory, which sits beside the church on Main Street, could be rescued and renovated.
Central Maine Healthcare paid $125,000 for the church, Gill said.
Lewiston’s Prince of Peace Parish announced the sale over the weekend. On Tuesday, Monsignor Marc Caron called it “another sad chapter.”
“It is a day that we expected at some point,” he said. “From the beginning we said, ‘If it is to close, it is to close to be put on the market.'”
It has been on the market for a while.
The 156-year-old brick complex at 253 Main St. has been unused since October 2009, when Lewiston Catholics closed it and St. Patrick’s church overlooking Kennedy Park. In both cases, the churches were becoming too costly to operate.
Final Masses were held and the churches were deconsecrated.
Ideally, Caron hoped another Christian group would come forward with a plan to reuse the building. None did. The market is particularly tough on church buildings, he said. They don’t easily transform into other uses.
In January 2011, the stone-built United Baptist Church across the street was razed after sitting on the market for years. It became a parking lot.
Gill did not disclose a timeline for St. Joseph’s demolition. It will be mourned, Caron said — generations were baptized, confirmed, married and eulogized there.
“We owe a lot to that church and that location,” Caron said.
The cornerstone of the building was laid June 13, 1864, according to a parish history published in 2007. The church was designed by architect Patrick Keely of New York and opened in 1897.
The building was known for its columned nave and the stained glass in almost every window, much of it hand-painted with extraordinary detail. Murals were painted in the 1920s by Monmouth artist Harry Cochran, according to the church’s history.
Since its closure in 2009, the parish has been paying for some building and site maintenance. It has also paid property taxes, Caron said.
The building has fallen into disrepair, Gill said.
“It’s kind of an unsafe building,” he said. “There are foundation problems and a lot of other problems.”
However, the health care group’s need for parking made the lot attractive.
The parking issue has become especially acute as CMH’s Lowell Square Building, nearby at 29 Lowell St., has begun to employ more people, Gill said.
“What was driving this was our need for parking and the parish’s need to sell the building,” he said.
Gill said the health care group plans to be respectful of the church’s history, probably installing a historical marker on the site.