The last remaining section of St. Joseph Church came down in Salem yesterday morning when two excavators toppled the white brick facade of the sprawling 62-year-old edifice.
Although the Catholic church on Lafayette Street is now a memory, a few pieces of the past have been saved.
Friday morning, the Rev. John Sheridan retrieved a time capsule that was placed in the church cornerstone when construction began in 1949. The priest was handed the metal box by construction workers, who had cracked open the cornerstone with a sledgehammer.
“We always knew it was in the cornerstone,” said Sheridan, the pastor of St. James Church, where the time capsule and several religious relics from St. Joseph have been moved.
“I’ve always been told, right from the beginning, that it’s very important to get the time capsule, to make sure the time capsule is secured.”
Sheridan says he knows what’s inside the metal object, which is the size of a safe deposit box, but doesn’t plan to reveal the contents for several weeks, or until a church ceremony can be organized.
“It’s my little secret,” he said with a smile. “I tease people and say that I’m under a sacramental bond.”
When it is opened, Sheridan said the honor will go to the Rev. Lawrence Rondeau, the longtime pastor of St. Joseph who now resides at the St. James rectory.
“At one point, I will hand Father Rondeau the time capsule and a tool and say, ‘It’s all yours,’” he said.
Sheridan said he also plans to distribute about 20 metal fleurs-de-lis that once dangled from chandeliers inside St. Joseph Church, which was built by French-Canadian immigrants. They will go to former priests, nuns and staff who served or worked at St. Joseph.
All sacred objects have been removed from the church by the Archdiocese of Boston, according to the pastor. Soon after the parish closed in 2004, a large crucifix inside St. Joseph was transferred to St. James.
The cornerstone also will be taken over to St. James, Sheridan said.
There are plans to hang one or two stained-glass windows from St. Joseph inside the community room in the four-story apartment building that will be built on the church property, according to the developer, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. Construction on the $20.7 million project is scheduled to begin next month.
Although the time capsule is a small item, Sheridan hopes it will have meaning to parishioners.
It represents “a bit of mystery” along with “a sense of continuity and a chance for an unfettered look at the past ...” the priest said.
“I hope it brings some closure, too, because we need that — some closure and a little bit of hope.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.