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Catholic parish moves forward with plans to move school and close churches

Christ the King Catholic Parish is moving forward with its plans to sell two of its churches and relocate St. John Regional School to the former Rumford School.

The Rev. Richard Roberge, the parish’s pastor, said he hopes to finalize the purchase of the school building this fall. Meanwhile, the parish is working to find buyers for Sacred Heart Church and St. Peter’s Church.

St. John the Evangelist Church will become the parish’s only location in Concord, and the current St. John Regional School building will serve as its parish offices.

But these changes won’t come quickly, Roberge said, and will unfold throughout the next three to five years. He said the parish is moving “slowly and cautiously, and with due diligence.”

Last month, the parish signed a purchase and sales agreement with the Concord School District to purchase the Rumford School building for $600,000. It is also seeking a project manager to oversee and assist with renovations to the Rumford School, the sale of the two church properties and renovations to the remaining South Main Street campus.

Next week, the parish will host a “listening session” in the Rumford School building.

“(It is) an opportunity for people to see the building inside and meet in the all-purpose and meeting room, and then we’ll tell people where things are at at this point and answer questions,” Roberge said. “So the focus will be on where we are right now and how we move forward.”

Roberge said he could not discuss private negotiations about the use of Sacred Heart and St. Peter’s churches. But “good possibilities will surface with time,” he said. He told parishioners last fall that he hopes to find other Christian churches to purchase and use the buildings.

“We’re looking and studying various possibilities for those properties and, again, we’re doing our best to make sure that they’re used for things that are appropriate,” Roberge said. “We’re really looking aggressively to see that they’re used for religious purposes and . . . (that) the historical nature of the building and its use be respected.”

Last fall, a special parish planning committee proposed a plan to sell two churches and relocate the school.
The parish was facing a monthly deficit of $35,000 to operate its 12 different buildings on three campuses. Roberge and members of the planning committee have said the consolidation will unite their community.

At a series of meetings in October, parishioners expressed sadness for the loss of two churches but endorsed the plan, allowing Roberge and the committee to move forward and submit a bid for the Rumford School building.

Christ the King Parish currently operates St. John Regional School and St. John the Evangelist Church on South Main Street, Sacred Heart Church on Pleasant Street and St. Peter’s Church on North State Street. The three churches were separate parishes until they merged in 2011. Church consolidation across the state began in 2002, as the Catholic Diocese of Manchester dealt with a declining number of priests.

Roberge became pastor of all three parishes in 2010, and they united to form Christ the King Parish one year later.

Under the plan to unify the parish community and reduce operating expenses, St. John Regional School will move into its new building next fall.

Roberge said renovations before that move will include electrical upgrades and improvements to handicapped accessibility.

The parish will soon hire a project manager to help
facilitate the process and act as a liaison between staff members, the school and various parish councils and committees.

The parish’s plan also includes renovations to St. John the Evangelist Church to increase the number of seats and create a new entrance. Eventually, the parish plans to build a new gymnasium and parish center on the South Main Street property. The work will be funded by the sale of the two other churches and a capital campaign, Roberge said.

Meanwhile, Roberge said weekly contributions to the parish have increased since October. For three months, the parish did not have to draw any money from savings to pay its bills.

“So people stepped up, which we also saw as an affirmation of the plan,” he said.

The parish also recently received an anonymous donation of $24,000 toward its future plans. Roberge said the donation came from outside the parish, but the donors simply wanted to support the plans.

“It’s almost like, to me, a sign from God that it’s a positive thing,” he said. “Everything has fallen into place in a prayerful way. We’re not going push, push, push. We’re just trying to discern.”

The listening session for parishioners will be held at 12:30 p.m. next Saturday at the former Rumford School building on Thorndike Street.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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