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Wellesley signs agreement to buy St. James the Great Church

Posted by Evan Allen  April 2, 2012 08:12 PM

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Wellesley’ selectmen have signed an agreement with the Archdiocese of Boston to purchase St. James the Great Church, a Catholic church shuttered in 2004 and occupied since then by parishioners who refuse to let go of what they say is their spiritual home.

The agreement, signed Monday and posted on the town’s website, is contingent upon Town Meeting approval, according to Hans Larsen, Wellesley’s Executive Director.

“We have a vision and we have a deal signed with the Archdiocese that we are excited about,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more planning work to do.”

The agreement sets the price of the 8-acre site on Route 9 at $3.8 million. The purchase would be financed by Community Preservation Act funds and borrowing, according to the Town Clerk’s Office.

Larsen said that the town hopes to turn the land where the church currently sits into a skating rink, playing field and swimming pool. The church itself, he said, will have to come down.

“We would expect it to be demolished,” said Larsen.

The church has been a sore spot for the Archdiocese, which has been fighting efforts by parishioners holding vigil to reopen it as a place of worship.

The Archdiocese deconsecrated the church building last July. Deconsecration is a process that turns a house of worship into a secular space. Parishioners have filed an appeal with the Vatican to reverse the deconsecration.

That appeal was recently denied, according to Terry Donilon, Archdiocesan Secretary for Communications. The parishioners, he said, have the right to appeal again to the highest court of the Vatican. The sale of the church is dependent on the completion of the appeals process, he said.

“We’ve got to let the canonical process play out,” he said.

Though Donilon said he didn’t know how long that would take, selectmen chairwoman Barbara Searle said the town wants to close on the property this fall. Parish representatives were told of the situation last Friday, Donilon said.

Suzanne Hurley, a spokeswoman for the St. James parishioners, said that they were still discussing their next step, but that she “would not be surprised” if they decided to appeal again.

She said that as far as the St. James parishioners were concerned, it would be “business as usual” with the vigil.

“We are not changing anything,” she said.

Lights were on at St. James on Monday night, but no one answered the door. A sign on the door of the church read “Save St. James,” and a sign in the parking lot still alerts passers-by that the church is “Searching For a Priest.”

Donilon said that the archdiocese hopes that the St. James parishioners will ultimately join another parish.

“We’re not looking to have them not be a part of our Catholic church,” he said. “We want them to be part of another parish that is open.”

The Board of Selectmen will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, April 4, at 7 p.m. to give a complete report on St. James. The town will hold a Special Town Meeting on June 13 to seek approval for the purchase of the church.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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