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April 03, 2016

Save St. Laurentius: New group 'jeopardizes' preservation efforts

Parishioners who fought to preserve Fishtown church plead for cooperation with developer

Development Building
St. Laurentius  Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

St. Laurentius Church in Fishtown.

A group of parishioners who have spent the last three years trying to save their beloved Fishtown church is warning a new organization with similar intentions that their efforts could undo the accomplishments they've achieved.

The Friends of St. Laurentius' told supporters Friday that the formation of the new group is "admirable" but "foolish."

The exterior of St. Laurentius Catholic Church in Fishtown was designated as historic in July 2015 following a long battle with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The archdiocese had closed the church, merged its congregation with neighboring Holy Name parish and slated it for demolition, citing unsafe conditions concerning the structural integrity of the building.

The Friends fought back against the archdiocese's decision, getting an engineering report of their own that gave a more promising outlook for repairing the church.

After obtaining the historical designation, the Friends struggled to find a proper use for the building — a sale and demolition were still on the table if they couldn't.

But in February, it was reported that local developer Leo Voloshin had reached a tentative deal with the archdiocese to buy the church and turn it into apartments, keeping the exterior of the building intact but altering the interior.

While the outcome wasn't the ideal result for the Friends, they were pleased the church would still stand — a feeling that is the basis for their warning to the new group.

"Fortunately a developer has approached the AOP and offered to purchase the church, which means that the church will remain standing but the interior will be changed," the Friends said on their website.

"However the recent activities of this new small group may in fact jeopardize that sale."

The Friends did not give specifics on who runs the new organization or what they are trying to accomplish.

However, it appears they are referring to those behind a Facebook group that plans to film the church Sunday afternoon.

Those organizers have created a Facebook event for their planned video shoot, the description of which reads, "This is your chance, to tell our enemies that they may take our parking, but they'll never take our church!"

The description and comments on the event page do not make reference to the planned sale to Voloshin or the Friends explicitly, only claiming that, "The deed was left to the parishioners and the archdiocese is selling it for a $1."

While the archdiocese has maintained that the church building is technically under the ownership of the parishioners — specifically, the parish council of Holy Name — it carries legal responsibility for the property.

The financial details of the reported sale to Voloshin were not disclosed.

The Friends plead with the new group not to stand in the way of Voloshin, noting the difficulty of their journey to obtain the designation.

"It is public knowledge that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Vatican have ignored our pleas to see our magnificent Church once again serve the faithful parishioners.

"The only success that we have had — and it was huge — was the historic designation bestowed on St Laurentius by the historic commission which insures that the exterior of the building — the symbol of the dedication of the Polish immigrants who built it — will remain. "

Members of the Friends, organizers of the new group and the archdiocese were all not immediately available for comment Sunday morning.