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||Peter Finney Jr.
|St, Frances Cabrini Church
||My comments are summed up in the following commentary in the Clarion Herald, Dec. 2, 2006. I have pasted it below. Please allow this project to go through. We need to place a higher priority on people's lives than on architectural legacies.
Preservationists need to get a grip: Katrina happened
By Peter Finney Jr.
Dec. 2, 2006
Are we all going crazy yet? Is common sense in post-Katrina New Orleans a commodity rarer than properly engineered levees?
Let me get this straight. In the 1990s, it was perfectly OK for the city to tear down the Rivergate - designed by the esteemed architectural firm of Curtis and Davis - in order to build a casino.
But when it comes to reviving a drowned Gentilly neighborhood by tearing down the Curtis-and-Davis-designed St. Frances Cabrini Church - a sacrificial move parishioners overwhelmingly approved in July - to give Holy Cross School the opportunity to remain in New Orleans with a new $23 million facility, well, let's dust off the FEMA rulebook and find an esoteric footnote that will block the rebuilding and the educational dreams of hundreds, even thousands, of families.
"I call it foolishness," said New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell at a Nov. 20 press conference in front of the church, and she is exactly right.
But this time, FEMA doesn't get to grab for all the gusto in terms of utter foolishness. Stephen Verderber, a professor with the Tulane University School of Architecture who carried the preservation flag into battle at the 11th hour after maintaining the silence of a cloistered monk during several months of very public debate, needs a Katrina reality check.
This just in … Katrina happened.
Katrina delivered death blows to some neighborhoods, stays of execution to others. The Gentilly neighborhood that could be revitalized by the arrival of Holy Cross now sits on death row while we talk about architectural legacies and flowing rooflines.
Verderber is highly educated and loyal to his craft, and he is passionate in his desire to save the St. Frances Cabrini Church building, which was dedicated in 1963. But his actions, no matter how well-intentioned, simply don't pass the common-sense test in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Let me tell you whose actions do pass the common-sense test: those taken by the parishioners of St. Frances Cabrini. In the name of full disclosure, I was president of the St. Frances Cabrini pastoral council in 1995 when it crafted a parish mission statement as part of the Catholic Life: 2000 long-range planning process. Our ethnically diverse parish, a shining example of truly Catholic worship, pledged to do all things "for the greater glory of God."
These were more than words. On July 23, 2006, St. Frances Cabrini parishioners attended a well-publicized parish meeting at St. Pius X Church to discuss whether or not the archdiocese should go forward with negotiations with Holy Cross about acquiring the Cabrini site and the adjacent site of Redeemer-Seton High School, 18 acres in all.
THERE WERE two proposals on the table. One would allow Holy Cross to purchase the entire site, which the school favored because it provided a bigger footprint for its proposed state-of-the-art campus. The other proposal would set aside a three-acre corner parcel for Cabrini parish for the future construction of a new church if the archdiocese reopened the parish at a later date.
Under either proposal, all buildings on the site - the church, rectory, parish life center and both schools - would be torn down. (That was fully reported in the July 29 Clarion Herald.) The discussion period elicited tears and emotion. No one who spoke wanted to see the church demolished. Founding parishioners recounted how their families had sacrificed to build the church. But in the end, the overwhelming vote to sell Holy Cross the entire parcel clearly reflected parishioners' desire to do all things "for the greater glory of God." As much as they hated to see their beloved church torn down, they knew "the greater glory of God" would be better served by sacrificing their church building and igniting a neighborhood's rebirth.
Cabrini parishioners continue to gather regularly, hoping for the day their parish may reopen. None of that is certain. But they already have stepped out in faith by making the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of the wider community.
Bringing about "the greater glory of God" is not on the FEMA checklist, nor should it be. But the vote taken by heavy-hearted parishioners in July was the right vote - for Cabrini, for Holy Cross, for New Orleans and for "the greater glory of God."
There is some hope that sanity may prevail. FEMA is doing an "expedited" eight- to 10-week historical and environmental evaluation of St. Frances Cabrini Church that might allow Holy Cross to clear the land in time to maintain its scheduled opening in temporary facilities at the site in August 2007 and to complete some permanent facilities by August 2008.
BILL CHAUVIN, chairman of the Holy Cross Board of Directors, says he is unsure what the future holds. "The only thing that is clear is that the project will be delayed and that we will end up with some form of mitigation," Chauvin said. "The result of that mitigation isn't known."
There may be a way to "mitigate" the demolition by placing a historical exhibit of Cabrini Church in the new Holy Cross School. That sounds a little crazy to me, but crazier things have happened already. All we know now is that a worthy project is being needlessly delayed - and possibly scuttled.
"We were hoping to have the land cleared by Christmas and start the foundation work in February or March," Chauvin said. "If we're forced to keep the church, we think it would render the project to be economically infeasible to us. If that happens, we would have to look at alternatives. We cannot rebuild without (FEMA funds). Without that money, there is no new Holy Cross."
Very simply, Plan B for Holy Cross would become a death sentence for a devastated neighborhood.
St. Frances Cabrini, pray for us. And while you're at it, ask the heavens to shower down a little common sense.