St. Therese Teardown?

April 30, 1998

The Parish Council of St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk has agreed that the congregation's much-loved church building should be replaced with a new church of similar design. The Tudor-style building, on South Essex Avenue, is a downtown Montauk landmark.

The decision, which has been accepted by the church's pastor, the Rev. John C. Nosser, was made at a meeting of the council on April 19. The cost has been estimated at over $1 million.

Announced in Sunday's church bulletin, the decision apparently contradicts the wishes of parishioners, who, in a recent survey, voted in favor of restoring the existing structure. Before the decision is finalized, however, they will have another chance to express their opinions. Response forms are going out and are due back by May 10.

Opposition Expected

The St. Therese parish has been at odds for over two years about the fate of the building. It was closed in July 1996 after being found structurally unsound. The minister at the time, the Rev. Raymond Nugent, favored its demolition, but parishioners objected.

When Father Nosser took over in June 1997, he appointed a council of parishioners to study the issue. Paul Monte, George Sterling, Gloria Tovar, Jack Graham, Don Kennedy, Patricia Smyth, Peter Murray, Anna Ostrander, and Theresa Eurell are its members.

According to Mrs. Eurell, the vote came from the members' heads rather than their hearts. Speaking of those who oppose demolition, she said, "They don't understand, you cannot refurbish that church."

Reasons Given

Mrs. Eurell said the council expected the worst is yet to come between opposing sides. "It's time the people see that a lot of misconception has gone on here," she said. She said the new building would look exactly like the existing one, and be safer.

In Sunday's church bulletin several reasons were given for the council's decision. The estimated cost of a new church, with 275 seats, would be close to the costs estimated for renovation, but it would have lower maintenance costs and wings could be added to meet future growth in the parish.

Because the renovated church apparently would only be able to seat 186, its use would be limited to weekdays, weddings, funerals, and a few Sundays a year, the bulletin states. In addition, it would continue to have problems with water in the basement.

Limited Response

There are some 635 registered parishioners. They received a questionnaire from the council early in March and 227 responded.

The results, tabulated during the first week of April, showed the majority, 109, in favor of repair, renovation, and restoration of the existing, 220-seat church. Thirty-six people voted to replace the church with a new one seating 600 to 700.

Six others voted to convert the present school, where masses and other services are being held in the basement, to a church. Fifteen voted to sell the school and to build a new church and parish center on the present church site. In addition to the existing church and school, the parish has a center in a small building that faces South Etna Avenue.

Seventy-one parishioners voted to build a new church similar in design to the old church, but on a slab. Parishioners also were asked to indicate second choices. These responses were evenly divided between restoring and rebuilding, it was reported.

Since that time, estimates of the costs of both options have been obtained. Ira Haspel, an architect experienced in church construction, provided figures for a new building. In addition, Tom Issing, a parishioner who is an architect, studied what would be involved in bringing the existing church into conformance with state and town codes.

He concluded that 34 seats would have to be relinquished, leaving 186. The cost of such a restoration was estimated at $1,186,492. Council members then pared down items they considered nonessential and were able to lower the estimate to $896,231.

Two More Steps

The cost to construct a new church, similar in architectural style to the present one with 275 seats was at the same time reported to be $1,220,401. This estimate included incorporating the pews, stained glass windows, and decorations of the present church. Again council members eliminated several items and reduced the amount to $1,120,000.

Before seeking the necessary permission to move ahead from Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre Diocese, Father Nosser said he wanted to ask parishioners once more if they accepted the recommendation and if they would support a fund-raising campaign.

The new questionnaire contains three statements, each requiring a "yes" or "no" answer. They are: I accept the council's recommendation; At a later date I would consider a pledge, and, I would be willing to serve on a fund-raising committee.

Asked to comment on the recommendation, "Everything's in the bulletin," Father Nosser said.