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Diocese declines to sell Sacred Heart Church to developer

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on February 18, 2024.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

From church bells to wedding bells — that was CJ Estel’s vision for Sacred Heart Church in East Toledo.

Through community partners and investors, he had hoped to repair and transform the former Catholic church into a wedding and event venue.

But the Diocese of Toledo announced Sunday its decision to decline Mr. Estel’s offer and to follow through with its initial plan to demolish the church.

“After careful and prayerful consideration, Epiphany of the Lord Parish … with the support of the Diocese, intends to move forward with the original plan,” wrote Bishop Daniel Thomas in an op-ed published Sunday.

His letter outlines considerations that contributed to the decision, including that Mr. Estel’s offer of $1, which the investor sent to the diocese Dec. 27, did not include the required proposals regarding how the building would be used and how it would be maintained and repaired.

Bishop Thomas relegated or deconsecrated the church, which was in need of an estimated $1.5 million in repairs, in October and Masses have not been celebrated there since Jan. 6. Only two of the six original Catholic churches in East Toledo remain, and they comprise Epiphany of the Lord Parish.

Church law requires a 10-day period after a relegation is made public during which people can object to the decision. They can then file a formal appeal to the Vatican. One petition seeking to overturn the bishop’s decision was rejected by the Holy See, according to the diocese.

Church law does not, however, require presenting an opportunity for the community to propose a plan to preserve the building. Though the community was given 30 days to present a purpose and source of funding, Bishop Thomas wrote, the offer it received did not meet the criteria and was “strikingly similar to prior transactions” involving other former churches in the diocese.

“The former church buildings of Holy Rosary, Saint Hedwig, and Saint Anthony stand as daily reminders of perhaps well-intentioned yet failed preservation efforts within the City of Toledo,” he wrote. “These buildings continue to be a blight for the community at large and do not reflect their inherent dignity as former churches.”

Mr. Estel said he was informed of the declined sale Thursday but without details on the reasoning. Though the letter did not address a recent verbal proposal to lease the building, and he doesn’t suspect there will be further consideration, Mr. Estel said he will still follow up with church leaders.

“I did expect that they probably would go this route. I just wish there would be more transparency into the reasoning behind it. I think that we do have a really good group of people,” the Lancaster-based investor said.

“This is not just me, somebody who grew up in the area but lives out of town,” he continued. “I’m working with investors and business owners in the Toledo area,” including Dan Nester, CEO of Polaris Logistics Group, and Tim Croak, CEO of Croak Capital. Mr. Estel said he’s confident that a substantial amount of funding would be covered to restore the building and benefit the East Toledo neighborhood.

He’d like to hear what would be an acceptable offer for the diocese to consider, he said, and he’s open to abiding by any restrictions the diocese may place regarding use.

Bishop Thomas’ letter concludes by stating the Catholic Church’s dedication to the salvation of souls and that “Epiphany of the Lord Parish and the Diocese of Toledo remain committed to continuing the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel in East Toledo.”

Mr. Estel wishes to see the church carry out that mission without razing Sacred Heart.

“The church stated in a Dec. 14 [community] meeting that their goal was to save souls and not buildings. I would imagine if they were to put that money toward savings souls, it would go a lot further than demolishing a building somebody else is willing to save,” Mr. Estel said, estimating that a demolition of the church could cost the diocese $150,000.

Kelly Donaghy, senior director of communications for the diocese, wrote in an email Friday that plans to raze the church are not finalized and quotes have not yet been sought to anticipate the cost of the project. The parish must first remove all sacred objects from the church, she said.

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