Downtown: St. Peter’s Church is a refuge in Concord, one last time

  • A crowd listens as a priest speaks outside St. Peter's Church in Concord on Sunday, May 27, 2018. The church had its final Mass on Sunday before it is torn down to make way for housing. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Father Richard Roberge (left) and Bishop Peter Libasci of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester shake hands outside St. Peter's Church in Concord. The church had its final Mass on Sunday, May 27, 2018, before it is torn down to make way for housing. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • A purple ribbon signifying the closure of a church is tied around the front doors of St. Peter’s Church in Concord. The church had its final Mass on Sunday, May 27, 2018, before it is torn down to make way for housing. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • Christ the King's Father Richard Roberge ties a purple ribbon signifying the closure of a church around the front doors of St. Peter's Church in Concord. The church had its final Mass on Sunday, May 27, 2018, before it is torn down to make way for housing. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • A procession led by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester’s Bishop Peter Libasci leaves St. Peter’s Church in Concord on Sunday, May 27, 2018. The church had its final Mass on Sunday before it is torn down to make way for housing. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/27/2018 7:55:17 PM

The Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Church started out like any other. But the turnout was higher than usual.

Outside, North State Street and surrounding roads overflowed with parishioners’ cars, probably more than had been seen in the area since the church was put up for sale in 2013. Inside, people were hushed, occasionally nodding their heads or waving to someone they hadn’t seen in a while.

But as 2 p.m. drew near, a cloud, subtle as incense, fell over the congregation. And then something different happened: a call for the Sign of Peace, usually invoked after the Lord’s Prayer, was made.

“Peace be with you,” the people said to one another, stretching out their hands over pews and across aisles. Some raised their hands and their eyes to the wooden beams overhead as the processional hymn began, tears already welling up.

St. Peter’s has been the site of many funerals, baptisms and marriages for Concord’s Catholic community. But on Sunday, the congregation came together a funeral unlike any other. A funeral for the church itself.

Certainly, the Christ the King parish will remain – just concentrated at the Saint John the Evangelist Church on South Main Street.

And perhaps a new community will form where St. Peter’s stands. Concord developer Jonathan Chorlian, who also turned the Sacred Heart Church on Pleasant Street into high-end condominiums, is looking to buy the church’s site along with the neighboring Rollins mansion and carriage house.

While the mansion and carriage house will remain standing, St. Peter’s will be razed to create space for a “pocket neighborhood,” a 10-cottage development centering around a green space, according to developer documents on the city’s website. The carriage house will see a new life as a community building, and the mansion will become an office and “live/work” space for residents.

Elements of the church will possibly see new life. Christ the King spokesman Charlie Burr said the pews will be moved to Saint John, and deconsecrated artifacts – the altar, the statues – will be put up for sale and hopefully purchased by a reseller of Catholic goods to be used in other churches. If not, they’ll be destroyed, he said.

But knowing the St. Peter’s structure will soon be torn down was still painful for some.

“It’s just sad,” Jill Galvin said outside the church, wiping away tears. Her family, she said, had started attending St. Peter’s because the hours worked for their family. Her sons, now teenagers, were baptized there. “It’s like a funeral for a church, it really is.”

For Galvin, the service was particularly painful because it was a sign that fewer people in her community are attending church. But she isn’t angry at Chorlian, saying she likes what he’s done with Sacred Heart.

“He’s been very respectful,” she said, looking up at St. Peter’s dominating circular stained glass window. “I just wish there was a way for the building to remain.”

Bishop Peter Libasci of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester had made peace with the building’s destruction.

For Catholics, Libasci said, a church holds a powerful significance. It’s a place for them to feel closest to God, especially when their faith is challenged. And it can call people back to their faith, especially amid the distractions of the modern world.

But when those distractions become too strong, worship is diminished, Libasci said. Numbers drop. Churches close.

Better, he said to the congregation, that the church be sold and torn down, to be “returned to God” as pebbles than to see a new life as a “pagan hall.”

“That temple,” he said, “is so vital for God to be present to his people.”

And as the final rites for the church began, its people certainly were present. They watched as the altar was deconsecrated, the candles extinguished, the purple ribbon signifying a closed church tied around the front door. And as they processed out the front door into the light, for the last time, they sang a hymn that touched St. Peter’s wooden beams.

“In every age, O Lord, You have been our refuge,” they sang.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)




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