Pennsylvania Church To Fall
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Oct. 14, 2009
Say goodbye to the 1891 church that was once home to the country's oldest Lithuanian Catholic congregation.
The Diocese of Allentown closed St. George Church in Shenandoah, Pa., in May 2006, deeming it unsafe. (Two years later it shuttered more than 30 other sanctuaries in Schuykill County.) Diocesan officials announced last month that St. George would be torn down this fall.
"It can't stay in its current condition because it's a safety hazard. It really comes down to safety," says Matt Kerr, spokesman for the diocese. It will cost between $5 million and $9 million to repair St. George, Kerr says.
Last month four parishioners of St. George filed suit against the diocese to prevent it from tearing down the Gothic structure. Others organized a rally last week in support of the church.
But at a hearing on Oct. 7, Judge Cyrus Palmer Dolbin denied an injunction request, and cleared the path for demolition of the granite and limestone structure.
Today St. George's two 140-foot-tall towers are wrapped in netting to catch loose masonry. Despite repairs in the 1980s and 1990s, the church's facade is cracked; its wood framing deteriorating; and the structural integrity of the towers undermined, according to Pennsylvania-based Foreman Building Commissioning, which presented a report to the diocese last month. The firm's architectural engineer Thomas McCune declined to comment.
Before St. George falls, workers will salvage and store select interior details. The diocese has contracted with Reading-based Empire Services to remove bells, stained-glass windows, and other furnishings at a cost of $317,000, according to a Sept. 25 press release from the Diocese of Allentown.
Kerr says the exact date of demolition hasn't been set, but it will happen "sooner rather than later."
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