To the editor:
When Lifebridge sold St. Mary's Italian Church to the pentecostal Christian group Gateways of Peace, many of us who had worked three years to raise the funds to purchase the church and restore it to the Salem community for its heritage of art and immigrant history, saw some poetic aptness to the sale. We wanted to support it.
But to explain that, some history is in order:
The former congregation at St. Mary's had been harshly treated by the Catholic archdiocese back in 2003. It had approximately $150,000 in its bank account and was served by a priest. Then the archdiocese took their buildings and their cash assets.
It came at a time when the hierarchy needed funds for reparations in the emerging scandal of pedophile priests. This was surely insult upon injury to the descendants of Salem's early 20th-century immigrant Italians whose church had played no part in this scandal.
St. Mary's and all its parish buildings were sold to another church group that morphed into the agency we know today as Lifebridge. The purchasers had promised to the former congregation — at public meetings and in writing — that they would maintain the church building as a space for Christian worship, but instead we saw the cathedral space of the church with all its Florentine art, marble, German stained glass, pipe organ and beautiful beam work become the storage room for a downstairs thrift shop.
When Lifebridge took the next step and sought funding to turn the building into three levels of permanent housing for its growing homeless constituency, the Salem Community Arts Center (SCAC) formed to rescue the building and restore it as a functional space for celebrating the three things that were distinctive about the Italian community that gathered there: their love of community, their love of the arts and their sincere worship of Jesus Christ.