The Immaculate Conception Church in the South End has gone through many changes in its history. From its early days as a center for Boston’s oppressed Irish Catholics to its later years hosting a largely gay congregation, the Jesuit church saw the same broad sweep of society come and go through its doors as the rest of the South End did over the 146 years Masses were said in its sanctuary.
But it might be about to see its biggest change yet: A developer has plans to turn the former church into 54 apartments.
South End developer GTI Properties filed a letter with the city last week saying it planned to turn the storied Catholic church on Harrison Avenue into a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. It’s the second time the developer has made plans to redevelop the former church, which hosted its last Mass in 2007 and was sold in 2013.
Details on the redevelopment were scant. The letter submitted to the city zoning agency didn’t include details such as the cost and time frame of the project. People at GTI in charge of the project couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, and the architect is on vacation. The attorneys who sent the letter did not respond to requests for comment.
But neighbors have been curious to learn more about the project, which was first proposed in 2013, according to a letter of intent filed that year. The developer had at least one community meeting, said George Stergios, a South End resident.
“What they proposed was actually quite good from a historical point of view because they were going to maintain almost everything on the outside of the church,” he said of the 2013 plan. “Churches are hard to design for.”
Nancy Farrington, the head of the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association and who lives next to the church, called the building a “neighborhood treasure.” She said she was eager for it to be developed, adding that it has holes in its eaves that she said she can see from her condo.
“I am very happy and very optimistic that this project is finally moving forward,” Farrington said. She said she could not speak for her neighborhood association, which hasn’t discussed the project in more than a year.
The Immaculate Conception project would be the third church conversion under development in the South End, said Stephen Fox, the chairman of the South End Forum, an umbrella group for neighborhood associations. He said developments that put empty buildings to good use are welcome.
Construction was finished on the church in 1861, according to an article by historian James O’Toole. The site was the first location for Boston College, whose first building was erected next door. Boston College High School relocated to its Dorchester campus in 1954.
The church’s exterior is a national historical landmark. Plans by the Jesuits to renovate and replace the interior of the church with offices and residences led to a legal dispute with the Boston Landmarks Commission during the 1980s.
Eventually, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the commission could not order the Jesuits to preserve the building’s interior.
Correction: An earlier version of this story cited the wrong year for Boston College High School‘s move out of the South End. The students moved in stages between 1950 and 1954; the Jesuit faculty remained in the South End until 1957.