The battle over the fate of the former Our Lady of Hope parish has been quiet for some time, but it’s not over. As the Republican’s Pete Goonan reports here, the Springfield Diocese is continuing to fight the City Council’s decision, in 2009, to declare the church a historic district, a move that strictly limits its future uses.
The diocese closed Our Lady of Hope that year as part of a larger plan to close and consolidate many parishes around the region, in response to the decline in both priests and churchgoers. Parishioners and other residents of Hungry Hill—worried that the beautiful, early 20th century building might face the same fate as St. Joseph’s, another shuttered church that was demolished—pressed the Council to designate the church a historic district. Our Lady of Hope was built by Irish immigrants and was an important symbol for the city’s Catholic community.
(Click here for a longer story about the conflict.)
The diocese objected, with its lawyer, Jack Egan, asserting that subjecting the church to the regulations of the Historical Commission amounted to a violation of religious freedom. “Can you imagine anything more constitutionally offensive than an agency of city government purporting to exercise any control over whether or not a religion chooses to place or remove crosses from a structure?” Egan wrote to city councilors.
The diocese sued in U.S. District Court in 2010 and lost. Efforts to resolve the conflict with a federal mediator have failed, so the diocese now is taking its case to federal appeals court. The case is expected back in court this spring, Goonan reports.