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Housing projects sprout where local parishes closed

Formerly home to Catholic churches, three properties now provide needed housing

St. George Condominiums at 36 St. George Ave. in Norwood, a 15-unit condo development in the former church, rectory, and convent.

DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

St. George Condominiums at 36 St. George Ave. in Norwood, a 15-unit condo development in the former church, rectory, and convent.

Church steeples and bells, stained-glass windows, and crucifixes symbolized their Roman Catholic faith and immigrant journeys from French-Canadian provinces and Lithuania.

Today, 10 years after they were among 70 churches closed or merged as part of a sweeping restructuring of the Archdiocese of Boston, three former parishes — St. Mary in Marlborough, St. George in Norwood, and St. Joseph in Salem — have been reborn as vibrant housing communities.

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St. Mary, a French-Canadian parish founded in 1870, was redeveloped into 36 units of market-rate condominiums in Marlborough’s French Hill neighborhood in 2008.

St. George, a Lithuanian parish founded in 1912, was transformed into 15 condominiums — including three affordable units — tucked amid a patchwork of two- and three-family homes off Washington Street in Norwood.

At St. Joseph in Salem — a French-Canadian parish founded in 1873 — the church and convent were demolished and replaced with a five-story building with 51 units of affordable housing and commercial space on Lafayette Street. Residents moved into the building earlier this year, and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley will officially dedicate the $20.7 million development during a 3:30 p.m. ceremony next Thursday.

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The three developments are examples of the new uses that came to scores of former parish properties scattered and sold from Rockport to Plymouth to Marlborough a decade ago.

New tax revenue and new residents have helped revitalize proud, blue-collar neighborhoods.

‘It was sad . . . that St. Joe’s had to close down. But I think what they’ve built here does it justice.’

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“It’s brought a whole different mix of residents to our community, which is fabulous,” said Marlborough City Councilor Trish Pope, who closely followed the redevelopment at St. Mary Parish from 2008 to 2011.

“It turned out wonderful,” John Carroll, Norwood’s general manager, said of the St. George Condominiums, where residences were completed between 2008 and 2010. “They brought housing to a nice, little, old ethnically diverse neighborhood.”

In Salem, the redevelopment of St. Joseph was delayed for years by lawsuits and zoning appeals filed by historic preservationists who ultimately lost their bid to save the convent and white-brick church built in the shape of a cross.

The development, known by its address as 135 Lafayette, marks a fresh start for The Point, an immigrant neighborhood anchored by the church since the founding of “St. Joe’s” in the late 19th century

“Closing St. Joe’s was very, very hard,” said Lucy Corchado, president of The Point Neighborhood Association, and the ward city councilor at the time of the parish closing. “It was a difficult transition. . . . It took a long time for this project to get going, but I’m very impressed.”

When a parish property is put up for sale, an appraisal is sought, but no asking price is set, Terrence Donilon, communications and public affairs secretary for the Boston Archdiocese, said in an e-mail to the Globe. “When we market a property, we seek requests for proposals.”

Developers said they tried to be sensitive when converting churches to condominiums. Memorial gardens, stones, and names recall the parish’s rich legacies.

“Emotionally, churches are really hard to redevelop,” said John Iredale, president of the Karsten Co., the Weymouth-based construction/development company that bought the former St. George parish in Norwood for $1 million in 2005.

“There are people who got baptized, married, and buried their parents there,” Iredale said. “You can be the most understanding person in the world, but no matter what, you’re taking away part of their childhood.”

A memorial garden was dedicated to deceased parishioners at St. George and a granite bench honors the Rev. Bill Wolkovich, a popular pastor who died in 2005.

The stucco church was redeveloped into 11 condominiums, while the convent and rectory each were made into two units. The project was built under the state’s 40R law, which allows for a new zoning district to be created in exchange for 20 percent of the units being designated as affordable.

At St. George, three units were set aside for low- and moderate-income buyers, as required by the law, Iredale said.

“It gave us a vehicle to get the project approved, and the advantage for the town was the affordable units,” he said.

The condos — which were marketed just as the economic downturn hit in 2008 — sold fast, but for less money than expected, Iredale said.

“We lost money on the project,” he said. “But it was important to us that we do a good job.”

Vinnie Rotolo bought a unit in the former Norwood church four years ago for about $275,000, he said.

“I think my bedroom is where the organ used to be,” Rotolo, 33, said as he took an afternoon stroll with his dog, Riley. “You can tell it was a church because of the high ceilings and windows. That’s what makes it different. I think they did a good job with it.”

In Marlborough, St. Mary’s church, convent, and rectory were sold for $1.1 million in 2007 to Alt.Re, a Newton-based development company.

The red-brick buildings were converted into 25 condominiums, while 11 new town houses were built on land behind the former church. In all, the development cost about $8 million, said Stas Burdan, a principal in the company.

“The units in the church sold very fast,” said Burdan. “There aren’t that many buildings in the Marlborough area with such a long and interesting history.”

An original stained-glass window was placed in a common area inside the former church. An access road that cuts through the property was named St. Mary’s Way, and the entire development was named St. Mary’s Condominiums.

“We knew people were sentimental about this property,” said Burdan, a native of Ukraine. “We’ve had people thank us for preserving the building and the name.”

The economy slowed sales, particularly for the town houses, with the last unit sold last month.

“Some of the units sat for a while,” said Burdan, whose company now is redeveloping the old Howe Shoe factory in Marlborough. “It helped that we built in three phases.”

Kitty Raymond, 49, bought the last available town house in July for $264,900. “I just love it,” said Raymond, who lives there with her 13-year-old daughter. “It’s very bright and sunny with high cathedral ceilings.”

Raymond also likes living on a former parish property.

“It’s very quiet and calm,” she said. “I love the way they preserved the character of the church.”

In Salem, the former St. Joseph Church was purchased for $2 million in 2005 by the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, a nonprofit developer affiliated with the archdiocese. About 1,100 people applied for a lottery for the 51 affordable rental units, according to the developer.

Judy Bernardez, 31, who grew up in the parish, was among the lottery winners.

“I wanted to live in the neighborhood I grew up in,” said Bernardez, a single mother of a 7-year-old son. “I had done a lot of work in the neighborhood.”

Bernardez, a geriatric support coordinator at North Shore Elder Services, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in February. She receives a low-income rent subsidy and pays $1,134 per month, she said.

“A lot of people need affordable housing,” she said. “It was sad and unfortunate that St. Joe’s had to close down. But I think what they’ve built here does it justice.”

All of the apartments were rented in March. Discussions are underway with retailers and restaurants interested in leasing commercial space on the first floor, according to the Planning Office for Urban Affairs.

A community room will provide public meeting space. It will also serve as a polling location for elections.

“Its reuse honors the legacy and carries on the mission of the former St. Joseph Parish by providing for people in need,” said Lisa B. Alberghini, president of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs.

A cornerstone of the original 1911 church building is displayed in a courtyard as a memorial. A plaque will be put on the building, and a pictorial history will be displayed in the community room. A stained-glass window and a pew will be donated to the city’s historic commission, Alberghini said.

The developer also purchased the former St. Joe’s rectory and school building. But a date to redevelop those properties, and in what form, has not yet been decided, Alberghini said.

“Getting under construction on those buildings is still some time away as we continue to explore our options, but we are fully committed to preserving those structures as part of our redevelopment,” she said.

A look at the three former churches

St. George Parish, Norwood

Founded: 1912

Closed: 2004

Sold For: $1 million in 2005 to The Karsten Co.

Current use: Condominiums. The former church, rectory, and convent were converted into 15 condominiums — three of them affordable — as the St. George Condominiums, which opened in 2008.

Property taxes paid to city: 31,693 (fiscal 2014)

Patty Bailey/File 2004

St. Joseph Parish, Salem

Founded: 1873

Closed: 2004

Sold For: $2 million in 2005 to the Planning office for urban affairs

Current use: Affordable apartments/commercial space. The church building at 135 Lafayette St., built in 1948, and the convent (1962) were demolished in January 2013. A four-story building with 51 units of affordable apartments was built in its place, opening in 2014. The first floor also has 4,000 square feet of commercial/retail space for lease. The former rectory and school will be preserved for redevelopment as housing, offices, a day care, or space for nonprofits.

Property taxes paid to city: $15,732.89 (fiscal 2014)

Globe File photo/2005

St. Mary Parish, Marlborough

Founded: 1870

Closed: 2004

Sold For: $1.1 million to Alt.Re Development in 2007

Current use: Condominiums. The church, school, and rectory at 30 Broad St. were redeveloped into St. Mary’s Condominiums, 25 market-rate units that opened between 2008 and 2010. A group of 11 town houses also was built on a hill behind the church.

Property taxes paid to city: $125,363.19 (fiscal 2014)

Marlborough Historical Society/File

Sources: Archdiocese of Boston, City of Salem, towns of Norwood and Marlborough.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@
globe.com
. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.
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