FALL RIVER – The St. Anne’s Preservation Society filed its formal appeal yesterday to Bishop Edgar da Cunha of Fall River in the hopes of saving the iconic church building on South Main Street.
More than 75 people, many of them who attend daily Mass in St. Anne’s basement shrine, also turned out last night to the VFW hall on Bedford Street to learn about the plans that are in the works to save the church, which is slated to be closed on Nov. 25.
Chief among those plans is a proposal to convert St. Anne’s from a parish church into a shrine that would be kept open for people to visit during the day, pray and attend Mass.
“I believe this church can be saved. The bishop has to open his eyes and give us a chance,” said Richard Affonso, a St. Anne’s parishioner involved in the preservation efforts.
Embattled Mayor Jasiel Correia found a receptive audience as he stopped by the VFW hall and vowed whatever help his administration can offer. He proposed one idea that would have St. Anne’s receive a new historical designation, thus possibly becoming eligible for federal historic tax credits. Correia said he has floated that idea with the bishop and the CEOs of several local banks.
“This building is an icon,” Correia said. “It defines the city’s landscape. It defines the city’s shape as you come over the Braga Bridge.”
Last month, the Diocese of Fall River notified parishioners that St. Anne’s would be closed after the Mass on Nov. 25, the Feast of Christ the King, which closes out the Catholic Church’s liturgical year. In a letter addressed to parishioners, da Cunha cited decreasing Mass attendance, deteriorating finances, a priest shortage and the costs of fixing St. Anne’s as factors that went into his decision.
An architect estimated it would cost $13.5 million to fully renovate and repair St. Anne’s. Affonso said it would cost about $5 million to reopen the upper church, which has been closed since a piece of plaster fell off a wall during Mass in May 2015.
Brody Hale, a consultant from the Catholic Church Preservation Society who is assisting the St. Anne’s parishioners, addressed the audience by telephone, and said the society is drafting a proposal that it will soon submit to the diocese and the public about converting the church into a shrine. The proposal would also detail fundraising plans to reopen the upper church and renovate the entire building.
“For us to just let this church go, it would be a sin,” Affonso said.