To all who have a connection with St. Anthony Church, St. Peter, Kansas:
Several months after I arrived as the bishop of the Diocese of Salina, a woman told me that she was concerned about the statues and other religious articles at St. Anthony Church in St. Peter’s. I had never heard of that Church before. St. Anthony’s had been closed twenty years earlier. Sometime later, I visited the Church. There were discussions on what to do with the Church building and the interior. After much prayer and discernment, on April 8, 2021, I issued a decree relegating St. Anthony Church in St. Peter, Kansas to profane, but not sordid use. It is a formal decree required by Canon Law, and many are likely asking what does this mean? I am writing this letter as a less formal supplement to the official decree. “Profane use” is a term used by the Church to describe closed parish churches that will no longer be used as churches. It is also commonly referred to as a “decommissioning”; “secularizing”; and “desacralizing”. By decree, the church loses its dedication or consecration as a sacred place. After the dedication or consecration has been removed, the building may be demolished or, if it is appropriate, used for other non-sacred purposes. However, they may not be used for “sordid” or unseemly purposes.
This is not a decision that I or the diocese have taken lightly. Church buildings are sources of memories and anchors of faith in the lives of many of the faithful. In these buildings, we receive the Sacraments, marry our spouses, baptize our babies and pray for our beloved dead. While Christ’s Church will survive until the end of time, no such promise exists for any given church building. After consulting with many people in the surrounding area of St. Peter, the clergy of the diocese, architects and contractors and the diocesan Finance Council, the decision had to be made to bring down the St. Anthony church building. Following are some of the reasons:
The population in St. Peter and the surrounding area has been in steady decline for decades and shows no sign of reversing. St. Peter is not accessible by any road suitable for high traffic either paved or unpaved, so it is unlikely to see any future growth or rebirth.
The former school building was sold and is now in a serious state of disrepair. We do not want to see the same thing happen to the church building.
Little, if any, maintenance has been done to the church since it was merged with WaKeeney and Collyer over two decades ago. It is steadily disintegrating.
Doing some simple cosmetic repairs and repainting is not enough. To restore the church, which is what would be required were it to be saved, the following would be required to be done. None of this is optional or can be simply put off to the future:
The roof and guttering need to be replaced.
The ceiling on the inside of the church needs to be replaced due to water damage. Black mold damage needs to be contained and cleaned.
The boiler and all the related plumbing need to be replaced.
The air conditioning needs to be replaced.
The two small bathrooms need to be torn out and replaced with one large unisex bathroom that would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plumbing associated with the bathrooms needs to be replaced.
The floor needs to be replaced with either new carpet or a new hard surface floor.
All around the inside of the church, places where there has been water damage needs to be repaired.
The wiring will at least need a serious inspection. The whole church may need to be re-wired.
The interior of the church needs to be re-painted.
While not strictly necessary, it would be nice to have the pews re-finished.
The organ will need to be repaired or replaced.
There is black mold damage under the carpet and in the ceiling where water has leaked.
Repair work is needed on the stained-glass windows where some have been broken. The large rose window could simply fall out at any time.
The cost of all this work would be at least $300,000.00. Assuming that sum could be raised, an additional $1 million would need to be raised and prudently invested for the perpetual care of the building.
Even if the $1.3+ million could be raised, there are serious moral questions about spending that kind of money on a building that will see such little use.
Insurance will be expensive. Catholic Mutual will not insure buildings that are not in regular use. We would need to go to the open market and find an insurer who would insure the building for replacement cost of the building and contents. That would be expensive assuming we can even find an underwriter who would be interested in insuring the building.
Some questions and answers:
Why can’t the church be taken over by a private board who will assume the responsibility for restoring it and taking care of it?
While there may be some who want to see the St. Anthony church building saved, there is no guarantee that others will want to step forward and keep the project going when these people have passed. Such a board would be responsible for seeing to the mowing of the grass, cleaning of the interior, maintaining the plumbing, boiler, air conditioning, doing regular inspections of the building to keep ahead of needed maintenance, repairs, etc. Will there be interested people 25 or 50 years from now who will embrace these duties? Since that is unlikely, then a future group of people will be faced with the same decision that now confronts us.
Is the church building just going to be torn down with nothing to remember it by?
No. If there are funds remaining after demolition costs are paid, a memorial will be put either on the site or in the cemetery so that future generations will know that St. Anthony Church once served the town of St. Peter and the surrounding area.
What is going to happen to all the contents of the church?
The diocese will establish a list as to who will get first, second, third, and so on pick of the contents. Some of the larger pieces such as the old high altar, the statues, hanging light fixtures, etc. will be warehoused so that they can be re-purposed in future churches and church renovation projects. There will certainly be an opportunity for people who have an emotional attachment to the church to acquire an artifact or two by which to remember the church.
I hope this helps to explain what is being done and why. This decision is not going to please everyone, but given the circumstances that we find ourselves facing, I feel it is the best that we can do.