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Congregants of iconic Tacoma church mount campaign to save it from demolition

Holy Rosary Catholic Church

Congregants of an iconic Tacoma church are mounting a campaign to save the historic building from being demolished. 

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Seattle announced the decision to tear down Holy Rosary church rather than spend millions of dollars in repairs. 

But longtime members of the congregation, such as Joy Donohue, say they intend to appeal the decree, which came from Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.   

“My grandparents moved down here from Seattle and immediately we were at Holy Rosary,” said Donohue, while standing in the parking lot behind the now fenced-off church. “It’s where I went to school. I was married here. Many of my relatives funerals have been here.” 

Donohue is a board member of Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church, a local group that formed earlier this year in an effort to keep the church intact. 

“There are plenty of choices that could have been made rather than just raze the church,” Donohue said. 

Joy Donohue (left) and D.C. Grant (right) of Save Tacoma's Landmark Church stand outside Holy Rosary Church, which is slated to be demolished. The group hopes to appeal the decision and keep the church intact.
Credit Will Stone / KNKX
Joy Donohue (left) and D.C. Grant (right) of Save Tacoma's Landmark Church stand outside Holy Rosary Church, which is slated to be demolished. The group hopes to appeal the decision and keep the church intact.

Built nearly a century ago, Holy Rosary Catholic Church’s steeple punctuates the Tacoma skyline.

The church was closed due to safety concerns at the end of last year, after a piece of sheetrock fell from the ceiling. Since then, the parish has held Mass inside the auditorium of Holy Rosary Bilingual School, which is adjacent to the church and will continue to operate. 

In its decree, the Archdiocese of Seattle estimates it would cost about $2.2 million to reopen the church. Other repairs in the near future could run upwards of $6.7 million. A full renovation would cost nearly $18 million, according to the Archdiocese’s building assessment. 

But D.C. Grant, who also is a board member for Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church, says he doesn’t believe the Archdiocese has exhausted all the options, including looking for competitive bids or letting the parish try to raise the money itself. 

“My personal opinion is that seems like a heck of a lot of money,” Grant said. “They didn’t go out to get a couple bids or invite other organizations to look at that estimate. There’s some talk those numbers might not be all that solid anyway.” 

He said the group is fundraising and aims to reach the $2.2 million amount necessary to make the church accessible again. 

“The community built this church,” Grant said. “It was built before there was even such a thing as the Archdiocese of Seattle, and it will pull together to repair it.” 

Joy Donohue believes the Archdiocese also is underestimating the importance of the church to Tacoma’s architectural heritage. 

“We have quite a few buildings in the city of Tacoma from the same era, even almost the same style, that have been renovated and saved,” she said. 

From hardware stores to local contractors, Donohue said there’s “every indication the community is willing to step up and help.” 

But the Archdiocese disagrees with such optimistic forecasts. 

“After multiple assessments, it became clear that the building had significant safety issues. It is both technically and financially challenging to restore this building,” said Helen McClenahan, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Seattle. “The financial assessment of the parish called into question the parish’s ability to maintain the building moving forward.”

McClenahan said the Archdiocese has analyzed the potential of a capital campaign by the parish and it is expected to net much less than what is needed to restore the church. 

After the demolition, she said the “Archdiocesan leadership will continue to work with parish

leadership to assess options for Catholic use of the property.” 

Members of the parish who hope to keep the church from being demolished have until Sept. 9 to submit their appeal, according to canon law. 

An emergency meeting about the appeal will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Holy Rosary Convent Meeting Center.  

Massachusetts-based attorney Brody Hale, who is advising Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church, said the “demolition of a church is always supposed to be the last possible outcome to be considered.”

“An archbishop has to cite grave causes.” Hale said. “You have to illustrate the church is damaged beyond any repair and there are no funds available from any sources.”

Hale has worked with parishes in other parts of the country to prevent church closures. 

While he’s still in the early stages of reviewing the situation with Holy Rosary, Hale said he believes there is a strong case to preserve the church — without taking the matter all the way to Rome. 

“There are lots of ways this could be resolved quickly.” Hale said. “We will have to see what comes next.”

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.