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Wellesley signs agreement to buy St. James the Great Church

Parishioners may file new appeal

Parishioners at St. James the Great Church in Wellesley are shown at a weekly prayer service, in a photo from July 17, 2011. The town has signed an agreement with the Archdiocese of Boston to buy the church.Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff/Globe Staff

Wellesley selectmen have signed an agreement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to purchase St. James the Great Church, which was closed in 2004 and has been occupied since then by parishioners who refuse to let go of what they say is their spiritual home.

The agreement, signed Monday and posted on the town’s website, is contingent upon Town Meeting approval, according to Hans Larsen, the Board of Selectmen’s executive director.

“We have a vision and we have a deal signed with the archdiocese that we are excited about,’’ he said. “We’ve got a lot more planning work to do.’’


The agreement sets the price of the 8-acre site on Route 9 at $3.8 million. The purchase would be financed by Community Preservation Act funds and borrowing, according to the town clerk’s office.

Larsen said that the town hopes to build a skating rink, playing field, and swimming pool on the land where the church currently sits. The church, he said, will have to come down.

“We would expect it to be demolished,’’ said Larsen.

The church has been a sore spot for the archdiocese, which has been fighting efforts by parishioners holding vigil to reopen it as a place of worship.

The archdiocese deconsecrated the church building last July, turning the house of worship into a secular space. Parishioners filed an appeal with the Vatican to reverse the deconsecration.

That appeal was recently denied, according to Terry Donilon, the archdiocese’s secretary for communications. The parishioners, he said, have the right to appeal again to the highest court of the Vatican. The sale of the church is dependent on the completion of the appeals process, he said.

“We’ve got to let the canonical process play out,’’ he said. Donilon said he did not know how long that would take.


Barbara Searle, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the town wants to close on the property this fall. Parish representatives were told of the situation last Friday, Donilon said.

Suzanne Hurley, a spokeswoman for the St. James parishioners, said that they were discussing their next step, but that she “would not be surprised’’ if they decided to appeal again.

She said that as far as the St. James parishioners were concerned, it would be “business as usual’’ with the vigil.

“We are not changing anything,’’ she said.

Lights were on at St. James on Monday night, but no one answered the door. A sign on the door of the church read “Save St. James,’’ and a sign in the parking lot still alerts passersby that the church is “searching for a priest.’’

Donilon said that the archdiocese hopes that the St. James parishioners will ultimately join another parish.

The Board of Selectmen will hold a special meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. to give a complete report on St. James.

The town will hold a Special Town Meeting on June 13 to seek approval for the purchase of the church.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.