HOLYOKE – Victor Anop, who has led the effort for four years to establish a Polish Heritage District around the now closed Mater Dolorosa Church, told Reminder Publications the effort will continue.
The Holyoke City Council rejected the proposal at its April 7 meeting.
The diocese released the following statement after the vote: “Bishop Mitchell Rozanski is most grateful for this evening’s vote by the Holyoke City Council in rejecting the proposed historic district. He applauds the effort by Our Lady of the Cross parishioners in respectfully and thoughtfully making their voices heard. At the same time he recognizes that there remains much work to be done in healing the wounds caused by the sad but necessary pastoral planning process and closing of beloved churches. As he said in his April 1 letter to all city councilors, if the Vatican upholds its previous decision, he is committed to working together with parish and city officials in exploring options for a meaningful reuse for the former church.”
In a letter dated April 3 to the councilors, Attorney Stephen Spelman representing the diocese stressed the district would place an “enormous financial burden” on the Our Lady of Cross parish. He also detailed in the letter Mater Dolorosa Church is no “immediate danger of demolition.” The bishop also wrote a letter on April 2 to the council asking them to not to approve the proposal.
In his letter, Rozanski said a survey of the 63 land owners within the proposed district resulted in only 13 respondents of whom only five thought theirs “was historically significant.”
Anop noted the Fairfield Avenue Local Historic District took five votes before it was established and believes the Polish district will ultimately be approved with changes in the council after the fall election.
“Most legislation doesn’t get passed the first time around,” he said.
He thanked the councilors who supported the district and said the Historic Commission is still in favor of it.
Anop also released a written statement. He wrote, “The only thing missing from the discussion at this Holyoke Council meetings by those council members (eight of nine) who belong to a local Catholic Church who voted against the Polish Heritage District was: recitation of a prayer, communion by an authorized priest, and a blessing as we left the chamber. Those who voted against the formation of the Polish Heritage District were marching to the drum of the Corporate Bishop of Springfield, and violated the separation of church and state doctrine best recited by then Sen. John F. Kennedy: ‘I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute … I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak to me.’
“The following councilors, all apparent Catholic Church members, with an appearance of a conflict of interest, voted with the Diocese of Springfield: Kevin Jourdain, Daniel Bresnahan, Peter Tallman, James Leahy, Joseph McGiverin, Jennifer Chateauneuf, Howard Greaney, and Todd McGee.
“A Catholic pastor, during public input spoke for Our Lady of the Cross Parish, and has lobbied from the pulpit for over a year against the Polish District. All Holyoke Catholic priests, with no property interest in the church property, in a letter prepared by [diocese spokesman] Mark Dupont, also lobbied the Council …
“This is wrong. We were appalled, troubled, and very uncomfortable with the bias, and lack of required impartiality demonstrated by the actions of those councilors. The worst part of this process is that Ward 1 (Formerly Ward 4) will continue to suffer the blight with little or no hope. And the Polish-Americans of Mater Dolorosa feel that their heritage has been disrespected due to lobbying by the Corporate Bishop of Springfield, and the vote of the Council this evening.
I have never seen anything like the conduct of the councilors at this meeting. After this meeting, and tonight’s actions I believe the at-large composition of the council does not reflect the diversity of the community, and showed a lack of sensitivity to improving the dilapidated neighborhood.”