Former Parishioners react to demolition of Mater Dolorosa Church

Hampden County

Crews started the demolition of Mater Dolorosa church in Holyoke Tuesday.

They already took down one church wall, and people have been driving by to see it for themselves. Some even taking a piece of the church to remember it by. 

After more than seven years of fighting to save the Mater Dolorosa Church on Maple Street, the cranes moved in Tuesday, taking down the more than a century old structure.

“Weddings, christenings,” said Victor Anop, a friend of Mater Dolorosa. “The funerals of all of my family were held there. It’s not just a memory box, it’s a living place. Now Unfortunately because of what they did, the diocese in neglecting and tearing down the church, they’ve shattered a lot of people’s memories and dreams.”

The church started as a place of worship for Polish immigrants in the Pioneer Valley more than 100-years-ago. The church closed in 2011.

Concerns over the building’s structural integrity led to fencing going up around Mater Dolorosa. The Diocese received the permit to begin demolition Tuesday. A steady stream of former parishioners came to see the demolition and comforting one another.

At least one group of former parishioners tried to buy the church from the Diocese, but an agreement was never reached.

“I’m the fifth generation in this church,” said John Fydenkevez, member of the Mater Dolorosa Preservation Society. “Over 100 years of history. Just destroyed it. The preservation society, we tried. We tried negotiating with the Diocese, we tried to give them everything they wanted, and in the end, it was just not enough.”

Diocese Spokesman Mark Dupont told 22News the organ was sold a few months ago, and the stained glass windows in recent weeks. 

People tried to salvage what they could. One man took bricks for his fiancee, whose grandparents were married there. 

“Her grandmother and grandfather passed away,” said Robert Johnson of Granby. “They can’t make it to our wedding. Without a doubt, we would have gotten married here. Without a doubt. It’s sad that the church is gone, but it’s gone. People fought to keep it and it didn’t work out. But we can always take a piece of it as a memory with us, and that’s what I chose to do.”

Dupont said the Diocese tried to work out a sale to a non-profit group and then to the city, but nothing worked out. He said the demolition had to move forward quickly because winter’s coming. 

The demolition will take about a week, and it will be up to the Our Lady of the Cross Parish what happens to the land.

Diocese spokesman Mark Dupont’s full statement below:

“We did not undertake today’s demolition without having first provided ample opportunity for a potential buyer to step forward.  

It has been nearly eight years since the diocese was alerted to structural safety issues involving the former Mater Dolorosa Church.  During the intervening years we have been consistent in expressing our concerns regarding the long-term structural integrity of the former church as well as potential public safety concerns.  When the original analysis was challenged, the diocese sought a second opinion from another independent, licensed and bonded structural engineer.  That finding was consistent with the first.  

Even with that information the diocese remained open to finding a buyer for the building, a process unfortunately delayed by the unauthorized occupation and then the subsequent historic district consideration. A critical loss of time and marketing potential,

Once those actions concluded, however, we did discuss a possible sale to a non-profit cultural group and when that failed to materialize we accepted Mayor Alex Morse’s offer to negotiate a sale to the city. Despite months of negotiations, that also had an unsuccessful conclusion.

Since the city council rejected the purchase, efforts turned to preserving much of the interior sacramental as well as other items. It is our hope that through their new uses in churches and places of worship elsewhere, the legacy of this beloved parish will live on in some manner.

Once this work was completed, and with winter approaching and the utilities no longer connected, we had an obligation to move forward promptly. We understand how painful this will be for many, especially this time of year, however, safety had to be our priority and no matter when we had to undertake this demolition it would have been difficult for former parishioners.  

It will be up to the Our Lady of the Cross Parish to determine any future plans for the land.

We expect work to conclude within a week and clearing the site by early in 2019.

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