Request to readers: churches closing, moving church buildings

I remember reading a story about the moving of a large church building in the USA, from the north to the south.  I can’t remember the details, but I am sure one of you will.

Let’s imagine together for a bit, rather than closing and selling large church buildings, allowing them perhaps after a couple sales to wind up in the hands of schismatic or heretical sects, or perhaps being turned into nightclubs, etc., uprooting a grand church and transplanting it somewhere else.

But in order to entertain such an idea, we would have to know where the churches are, churches that are closed.

I was just in Detroit.  While in the car, we passed by more than one huge and closed church.  Very sad.

There are beautiful churches being closed.  Rather than build something new, at huge expense, could an old church be moved?

So… question for you.

Have any candidates?  Any big beautiful closed churches?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. disco says:

    Holy Trinity (German) Church Boston, MA. Most wonderful church I have ever been to and the first place I attended a TLM.

  2. andycoan says:

    Father, I believe the one you’re thinking of is the new Mary Our Queen in Norcross, Georgia, formerly St. Gerard’s of Buffalo, NY. The Mary Our Queen parish site indicates they have raised $3 million towards the move; I don’t know what the plans are. There are some pictures of the church here:

  3. Elizabeth D says:

    If there are wonderful traditional churches, maybe what some of them need is to be left in place and revived by priests like the Canons Regular of St John Cantius.

  4. ipadre says:

    It was a church from Buffalo moved to Georgia. They say there was a savings of millions by disassembling, moving and reassembling. In the process, they have a beautiful, like new church, that would be cost prohibitive today. This is a true “brick by brick” story.

    Mary Our Queen in Norcross, GA

  5. ipadre says:

    Here is a site about the moving process.

  6. skeyes says:

    There’s a nice old parish church close to where I live in Brighton, MA — Our Lady of the Presentation. Looks like it’s been closed for a while, like so many in the Boston archdiocese. Another that I know if is the old St Augustine’s parish in South Boston. For some reason when it combined with St Monica they relocated to the other, uglier and more modern building (now called St Augustine and St Monica). I suspect it was too expensive to repair the building.

    Wouldn’t it also be nice if some of these could be rehabilitated for the Anglican Ordinariate, or even (if it happens) for the SSPX Ordinariate? That wouldn’t necessarily solve the financial problems of upkeep, but it’s worth a thought at least.

  7. teomatteo says:

    Moving churches may be easier than moving minds . I’m trying to support an inner city Church (detroit) with weekly attendance. Not easy.

  8. teaguytom says:

    We had a church, St James, close in Baltimore during the dark ages of Archbishop Borders. John Neumann took his Redemptorist vows there, and it was listed on the Register of National Historic Places. It had the original high altar and altar rail and has a massive clocktower. The diocese sold it to an evangelical bible church that actually stripped the building of the Historical stuff.Altar rail and high altar got scrapped and its no longer on the National historic list. They also whitewashed the entire church, ruining it.

  9. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Blessed Sacrament Church, Jamaica Plain, Boston. I can only hope they broke up the interior architectural pieces and pieced them out to worthy churches. They were gorgeous, and conveyed deep theological truths.

  10. maynardus says:

    My first thought was also Holy Trinity in Boston – whose story deserves to be more widely known – but there are probably a dozen landmark churches that have been closed in the Archdiocese within the past few years. Back in January of ’07 I had occasion to visit Nuestra Senora del Carmen in Lowell (Ma) which was enormous, beautiful, completely intact, and… for sale to the highest bidder! Unfortunately they were in the process of “parting it out” like a ’72 Chevy in a boneyard (referred to hereabouts as the Archdiocese’s “Going-out-of-business sale”) and we managed to salvage the Communion rail and pulpit (and a number of more portable items) f0r re-use at Holy Name of Jesus in Providence. The high altar and baldacchino went to a new church a-building in Virginia, and I believe that the stained glass windows were also preserved.

    I felt a little – actually a lot – like a grave robber (e.g. King Tut’s tomb) even though I realized that it was far better for these things to go to another church than to be incorporated into the “churchy” decor of some future use of the building. But I really wondered at the time why someone wouldn’t at least consider dismantling and moving the whole thing. Even now – I don’t know if it’s ever been sold – the shell of the building, and the architectural and artistic elements which are part of the building’s fabric, would be worth preserving.

    Bishops and dioceses should be bending over backward to preserve our patrimony, but of course it’s all about the money these days. Meanwhile they wonder why the Church seems to be dying right under their noses.

  11. Liz says:

    This is so sad! However, recently I spoke to a priest from an ugly OF parish that is building a new church. He said they found some 100 year old windows to put in the new church and they were going to throw in a “Tridentine Priest’s Mass Set” for the price. I do find some comfort when some of these orders and new churches buy these things.

  12. Centristian says:

    As has already been mentioned, St. Gerard’s, a magnificent structure located in a very bad neighborhood in Buffalo (where it would have eventually fallen victim to vandalism) will be moving–brick-by-brick–to Georgia. There it will be lovingly re-assembled for generations of further good use. And I couldn’t be happier with that solution. What a shame it would have been to watch that splendid church deteriorate into another noble urban ruin. To know, instead, that Catholics will worship in this worthy structure for perhaps another 100 years is a very gratifying thought, to be sure.

    St. Gerard’s is but one of many beautiful urban parish churches in Buffalo that, along with the neighborhoods they were located in, fell victim to the so-called “white flight” to the outlying suburbs, where “McChurches” now abound. Even the Polish National Catholic Church sold their historic cathedral church in the city, replacing it with a very comfortable and very unworthy “McCathedral” complex in the suburb of Lancaster, NY. The original PNCC Cathedral is now a mosque, crescent moons replacing the Crosses once atop the twin steeples.

    The Diocese of Buffalo has just completed its “Journey in Faith and Grace”, which is the grandiose name they gave to their most recent parish closing and merging initiative. Although the diocese received plenty of criticism for the “Journey”, I for one think it was a courageous move on the current bishop’s part. It had to be done. The parishes that were closed were unsustainable given the costs of maintaining the properties vs. the numbers of parishioners. 75 parishioners each tossing a dollar in the collection basket once a week just doesn’t pay the bills, of course.

    A number of the closed city churches were purchased for a steal by congregations of questionable Protestant provenance that previously operated out of closed garages or storefronts. Alas, between the property taxes, the building maintenance costs, and the fact that these congregations are typically “shepherded” by con men out to scam the religiously clueless and rudderless, the re-occupation of these old churches is typically short-lived, and the deterioration continues.

    Selling these grand old piles to groups that can neither appreciate nor sustain them is irresponsible, and the diocese has taken its share of heat for having done so. The St. Gerard’s solution, however, is brilliant. Any affluent parish community in the US looking to relocate a magnificent old church to their property, rather than disgrace it with a “McChurch”, would do well to contact the Diocese of Buffalo. Between Buffalo and Niagara Falls there are a number of old jewels in all shapes and sizes.

  13. jravago says:

    What happens to all the items in the church when it is closed? Why aren’t they “recycled into new churches be built? I see many items on sale on ebay. Are these items from the closed churches?

  14. Winfield says:

    St. Gerard’s Church in Buffalo has not yet been moved to become the new home of Mary Our Queen parish in Norcross, Ga., in the norther suburbs of Atlanta. Fr. David Dye, the pastor of MOQ, confirmed my wife and me when we became Catholics years ago while the church still met in a “store front” office complex. Fr. Dye is a former Episcopal minister, married, who was ordained to the Catholic priesthood under the Pastoral Provision. A necessary ingredient in any successful attempt to relocate a historic church–particularly over a long distance–is a pastor with the vision and drive to bring such a daunting project to fruition. From renting office space to moving a historic church building 900 miles–a distance that miles alone can’t measure, and an example and inspiration to others.

  15. Titus says:

    Anyone who lives in a large urban diocese can probably think of a closed church that should be eligible for this kind of treatment. That’s nothing new.

    Instead of merely thinking of churches, what if we used the vast readership of this blog to identify:

    1) Businesses capable of moving a church in this fashion;
    2) Dioceses—and the relevant people within those dioceses—considering erecting new parishes or church edifices; and
    3) Appropriate closed parishes and the financial authorities in those dioceses who would consider a request to sell and move the church in question.

    If we aggregate all of that data here, it would allow readers in the #2 dioceses to present viable, reasonable plans to their bishops and pastors for undertaking these kinds of projects. That would make this post a thoroughly useful resource.

  16. pattif says:

    It is one of the great mysteries of life that, whenever decisions must be made about closing churches, amalgamating parishes and the like, it is always the church that has great architectural merit, historical significance or the one to which the faithful have deep emotional attachment that gets the chop; it never seems to be the sixties box.

  17. Centristian says:

    “It is one of the great mysteries of life that, whenever decisions must be made about closing churches, amalgamating parishes and the like, it is always the church that has great architectural merit, historical significance or the one to which the faithful have deep emotional attachment that gets the chop; it never seems to be the sixties box.”

    It’s no great mystery at all, really. Those faithful that had a deep emotional attachment to these churches of great architectural merit nevertheless moved out of those parishes, because the neighborhoods in which they were located typically deteriorated to the point where it wasn’t worth staying just for the sake of a lovely and historic old church. Off to the burbs they went and up went the churches that look like spaceships and glorified Thruway rest stops. The ugly suburban churches don’t get closed because they sit where Catholics actually live in large numbers.

  18. JeffTL says:

    I think this was recently done with St. John of God in Chicago. If memory serves, someone was wanting to put up a new church elsewhere in the Archdiocese and Cardinal George recommended relocating much of this grand old, but disused, edifice for that purpose.

  19. Dan says:

    Yes, the new building for St. Raphael the Archangel in Antioch, IL, is the facade of St. John of God and the interior of St. Peter Canisius.

  20. Andrew says:

    A 12th century monastery was moved from Spain to Miami in the 1950’s.

  21. jmgazzoli says:

    St. Liborius in North St. Louis. A once marvelous church, now empty and rotting away.

    Pictures and info below:

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    St. Liborius is absolutely breathtaking. The proportions are perfect. The high altar is a poem in marble. St. Gerard Majella is a handsome church, but St. Liborius is incredible — and would be, of course, proportionally more expensive to move. The interior, unfortunately, has been stripped of all its furnishings — but better they should be saved and in use than go down with the ship.
    I’m a little concerned in this economy whether MOQ is going to be able to get St. Gerard Majella moved before their option runs out. If anybody can do it, it’s Father Dye, I knew him way back when and he is a go-getter.

  23. JaneC says:

    *sigh* My parish is building a new church, and other than the stained glass which is coming from an older church it will be all-new. The bishop forced a design alteration so that the tabernacle will be front and center, but other than that it will be very untraditional.

    If only we could–brick-by-brick–move the exterior of something like this instead: OL of Perpetual Help, Cincinnati.

  24. Athelstan says:

    I’m glad others have mentioned St. Gerard’s. It’s a solution that I hope will be used to save other old grand edifices in the Northeast.

    One closed church I would like to single out in this regard is, in my opinion, arguably the most stunning parish church of its kind in North America: St. James of Lakewood, OH. It’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring recapitulation of the Norman Byzantine-Gothic Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily. NLM ran a piece on it a couple years back:

  25. RichardT says:

    Isn’t it more expensive to move a church?

    Yes, re-use things from old churches; altars, pillars, glass. But moving them would, I suspect,be a waste of money were it not that most modern church buildings are so vile.

    Surely the best option is that new churches are built to be decent, beautiful churches, rather than multi-purpose coffee bars. And it would get Matt Alderman some work.

  26. BP247 says:

    The phrase used here has been brick-by-brick, but isn’t this really a case of stone-by-stone? There are certainly many beautiful churches, but is it possible or cost effective to move a Church built of bricks? Don’t bricks have a lesser life span than monumental stone built Churches? I don’t know for certain, but would be interested to hear an architect or structural engineer on the matter?

  27. Iowander says:

    This is such a great idea. I belong to a new parish with a huge plot of land and a building project in its future. If only I could convince my fellow parishoners to do something like this…

  28. Richard, in this case they are saying they will save millions over the cost of constructing a new church by moving St. Gerard’s to Waycross. I’ve been inside it once, it is truly beautiful. It was modeled on St. Paul Outside the Walls but on a smaller scale. Over a decade ago, the former school building adjacent was turned into low-income transitional housing. With the removal of the church, instead of an abandoned run-down structure, there are plans to turn the lot into recreation space for the residents. I can’t see how anyone loses in this deal.

  29. Mrs. Bear says:

    When I went to the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City a few years back – it was crazy how many churches were closed or close to closing. One was made into a Circus school!
    We were able to go into one church that was absolutely gorgeous and could fit over 900 people and it only had one mass that would have about 75 in attendance!
    Quebec City is where the The Catholic Church started it’s North American ministry.
    They have such beautiful churches and they would have to move them out of the province to use them as those who practice the Catholic Faith in Quebec are few and far between.

  30. EWTN Rocks says:

    It is very sad to see beautiful old churches steeped in history and tradition fall into disrepair, close, become vandalized, sold, and eventually demolished. It is also disheartening to see these wonderful old churches replaced with modern, stadium-like structures that seemingly discourage reverent worship. On a positive note, I’m heartened to see a gradual shift back toward history, tradition, and reverent worship as demonstrated through the slow but steady increase of Traditional Latin Masses, many offered in beautiful old churches that have been lovingly cared for and repaired over time.

  31. dinsdale says:

    In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, we went through “renewal and revitalization” in the mid-1990’s, which left dozens of beautiful churches closed and many turned over to unfortunate uses (one is a nightclub, another is a microbrewery). We did have a Lithuanian parish (St. Casimir’s) close and its altars, statues, and other items were shipped to a church in Lithuania to help in recovering from damage done during the Soviet days. My own parish had its fittings disposed of at what amounted to an ecclesiatical garage sale, where all items were on display with price tags – fortunately, the sale was restricted to Catholic parishes.

    Remaining churches in the Pittsburgh area that I’d love to see moved or otherwise preserved include St. Josaphat’s (when last seen, the high altar, side altars, and rail were all intact – it was ready for regular use of the Extraordinary Form); St. Mary Magdalene in Homestead (dates back to 1881), and St. Nicholas on the North Side (this was the first Croatian parish in the United States and has a remarkable marble interior; the church itself is threatened by a highway project).

  32. phyllis says:

    Please, look in the Worcester Diocese in central Massachusetts for your new church building. We have many beauties. Our Bishop has been closing churches in our diocese for a few years now… something like 5 in Worcester in 2008, in 2010 he closed 3 in Clinton, 3 in Fitchburg, another in Worcester; 2011 closed 2 in Southbridge and sold a school in Fitchburg and is looking to other corners of the diocese for more.

    I just can not stop thinking that our neighborhoods would be better to have the Blessed Sacrament present with fewer parishioners than none at all.

    Bishop McManus recognizes that this is painful for some parishioners to accept. “It is fitting to grieve over what we have lost, but hope can be found by looking realistically at what we are today and by eagerly looking forward to what we can become tomorrow. We are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. As such, we are called to bring Christ our hope into a world that needs to be renewed in and through him. May these plans announced to you today fashion a vision for the present and the future that will invigorate the heritage of hope that has been passed on to us.”

  33. Mundabor says:

    I’ve been on the internet site of the church in Buffalo and couldn’t find any indication that the move will really happen. It is also not encouraging that no indications are given: how much will it cost and whether it has been contracted already, how much would the building of a replica cost, how much of the required costs has been already gathered. As it is, I don’t get the impression that the move will happen.

    In my eyes we have two profiles here: the moving of beautiful old churches, and the building of ugly new ones.

    If things were done with intelligence, new churches could be built as quality replicas (not Las Vegas-style cheap things: real bricks, thick walls, and so forth) of admired churches at a cost, in many cases, inferior to the dismounting and remounting of old ones (though this would depend in part on the quality and the materials of the old church).

    The dismounting and moving of old material from the old church could then be examined on a case-by-case basis (say: expensive marbles and stone facades: yes; old and frail bricks: no; massive stone pillars: yes; damaged roof structure: no.).

    This has an old tradition, and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields here in London is probably the most copied church on the planet. Also, in most cases it will be far less expensive to take away and move only the parts which would be prohibitively expensive to rebuild or have particular artistic value (statues, carved stone details, stone facades, & Co.) than to embarque in the entire “lego exercise” for the sake of it.

    The main problem is, in my eyes, not only that old churches get abandoned. It is that horrible churches looking like a McDonald restaurant are built in their stead.


  34. Centristian says:


    “I’ve been on the internet site of the church in Buffalo and couldn’t find any indication that the move will really happen.”

    I work for the Diocese and as fas as I know this is a done deal. There is an entire website dedicated to the project:

    Take a look.

  35. Mrs. O says:

    I think the Church mentioned in the article has been tagged already, but here is the OSV article I remember reading about one:

    I think it is a fantastic idea. It not only saves beautiful Churches from destruction or profane uses (bars/restaurants), it helps those who suffered watching their parish close to come to some sort of closure.

  36. Mundabor says:

    Thanks centristian, this is encouraging news and the church is, by the way, truly beautiful.

    The site is then not updated, because it still says as follows:

    “With your help, an American monument will continue life as a center of spiritual vitality and growth, a symbol of love for God and the unflagging human spirit.

    Without your help, the church will sit vacant at the corner of Bailey and East Delavan in a fading neighborhood which Catholic residents have largely departed. The church’s almost certain fate there, amid the harsh elements, is deterioration, decline and, eventually, destruction”.

    This was probably from before securing the funds for the entire operation.

    Anyway, I am glad to know that the move will now take place: the church is really beautiful and this could move others to do somewhat of the sort.


  37. Charivari Rob says:

    “Have any candidates? Any big beautiful closed churches?”

    I doubt it’s a candidate for moving, but one big, beautiful, closed church in Boston that doesn’t get the attention that others do is St. Gabriel’s. Closed around the time of Reconfiguration – combination of the Passionists were no longer able to staff it and the Archdiocese had other parishes nearby and the hospital chapel on the same grounds.

  38. jflare says:

    Much as I like the idea of moving a church for a use by a new parish, I have to wonder whether a building of that size CAN be moved for a reasonable cost without taking lots of chances with structural damage. Most churches weren’t designed with the idea of being moved.

  39. moconnor says:

    What is so sad is that these beautiful churches are exactly where they are needed. They need to be filled with a group of priests who will go out into these communities that desperately need their ministry. The dioceses should consider these missions. In the Middle Ages, the one time a European peasant could be welcomed into a sumptuous building was on Sunday and this should be the same for the denizens of the inner city. Do what it takes to attract them to this beautiful place to hear God’s Word.

  40. RichardT says:

    From the website:
    “The structure is ready for disassembly, transfer and re-establishment on a new, stronger superstructure 900 miles away in Atlanta.”

    It sounds like the stone, pillars, artwork etc. are effectively being re-used as cladding on a new structure. That makes a lot more sense; all that cut stone would be very expensive, so it’s wise to re-use it.

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