On Tuesday, Aug. 13, people driving on Old Mission Peninsula might witness something of a miracle: a 105-year-old church rolling down Center Road.
The congregation at St. Joseph Catholic Church is moving locations and they’re taking their church with them. The trip won’t be far -- only about three quarters of a mile south of the current location. The new site is at the 30-acre property where the St. Joseph Cemetery is located.
Once installed at its new location, the church, which was built in 1908, will be expanded to include about one hundred additional seats (raising capacity to 290), a vestibule, a larger social hall, parish offices, and a two-unit rectory.
The need for a new church was realized in 2006 when the diocese tried to figure out what to do with smaller parishes in the area (with a congregation of about 300 families, St. Joseph is about one fifth the size of St. Francis and one-third the size of Immaculate Conception).
“In terms of the other big parishes, we’re small,” says St. Joseph Business Manager Dave Sanger. “So the diocesan task force looked at our parish and we had two town hall meetings and the diocese determined that St. Joseph is a viable parish. It’s a self-contained community on the peninsula, and given the vitality of the parish, it’s the kind of parish that should be kept as a standalone parish.”
After it was determined the parish would remain open, the church had to figure out what to do about the growing congregation. The church leadership took stock of the existing building; with only one bathroom, and poor handicap access, the building could use some upgrades. The parking situation isn't ideal either.
“The existing church sits in the road right-of-way of 55-mile-an-hour M-37,” Sanger says. “Very unsafe in terms of people parking and coming and going.”
The idea of expansion was proposed but proved logistically impossible: with only two acres of property, there isn’t enough room. Fortunately the parish bought the acreage near the cemetery about 20 years ago.
But building a new church at the cemetery would likely mean demolishing the old, historic one, where so many parishoners were baptized or married.
Then an interesting idea began to emerge.
“We looked at the structure and found out that structurally it’s very solid,” Sanger says. “So we decided, why don’t we take the old building, move it down to the new location, and expand it? And so that’s what we’re going to do.”
When the church’s pastor Rev. Monsignor Edwin Thome announced they would save the building and move it, some people cried with joy, Sanger says.
The reaction surprised Monsignor Thome.
“As pastor -- I was here for eleven years -- I thought they’d be more sensitive for nostalgia but I was surprised,” says Thome. “They were all too anxious to be carrying things over, saying “hey, here we go.”
Eckler Building Solutions is teaming up with architect Ray Kendra and building-moving company Deitz House Moving Engineers to accomplish the project.