The Friends of Blessed Sacrament/Amigos de Blessed Sacrament put out a public statement on February 15 to lay out requests to future developers of the Blessed Sacrament church, as it is now being sold by the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) for $2.5 million, after no development partner was found to make necessary repairs to the church building and make it usable for the community.
The Friends of Blessed Sacrament “represent the voices of hundreds of residents, small business owners, former parishioners, youth advocates, artists, and community leaders in Jamaica Plain and the City of Boston,” the group said in their statement.
“We are united in our commitment to preserve the Blessed Sacrament Church’s legacy as a shining jewel of the Hyde/Jackson Square neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.”
It continues, “together we are speaking with one voice to let potential developers know that we are ready to work together to make sure that future development of the former Blessed Sacrament Church building meets the vision of the residents, artists, merchants, and young people of Jamaica Plain and Boston’s Latin Quarter.”
The statement outlines requests to potential future developers, elected officials, and the Hyde Square Task Force, and includes asks to not raze the existing church, to include affordable housing should a potential project be residential, and calling for elected officials to support these asks. The group also asks Hyde Square Task Force to “be flexible with the final sale price to encourage creative development ideas and partnerships,” as well as keep the process transparent with the community.
The Friends also say that they “support the work of the Hyde Square Task Force.”
There have been no official proposals for the property yet, but the Friends of Blessed Sacrament put out this statement as well as a petition to make their points clear about what they would like to see in a future development.
Betsaida Gutierrez, a long time JP resident and community activist, said that “we’re worried” that the building is being sold with no restrictions. “How is this going to impact the neighborhood and our efforts on saving the church?” she wondered.
She said that she and others want to work with Hyde Square Task Force, and said she would like to see the church be used for cultural events and programming around music, art, and theater.
“I notice that we need to work all together to make this happen,” she said.
Vanessa Snow, a community advocate and a former youth organizer for the HSTF, said that she had participated as a youth leader when the Catholic Church was selling the property.
“Hyde Square Task Force had its young people involved in the discussions because we knew that Jamaica Plain was rapidly gentrifying but also one thing our community came together around was this church project,” she said, adding that along with the HSTF, Urban Edge and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) were involved as well. It was a “huge community-wide effort to make sure that campus would meet the needs of all types of community members.”
She said that as an adult, she was working at the HSTF when the church was up for sale again, and was “part of the effort to keep the JPNDC from selling its share to another development partner” who could have turned it into luxury condos.
“I think HSTF has done an awesome job activating the plaza,” she said, adding that “HSTF is not a property developer,” and she “respects” their decision to sell the church.
“I don’t have any hard feelings against the HSTF and their decision to sell,” she said. “All of those things make a lot of sense to me.”
She said as someone who grew up in a “working class Latinx community,” it is very important to her that any potential projects for the site preserve the community and do not erase its history.
Snow said that she hopes that whoever purchases the church “understands the context in which they’re coming into that property. Hopefully they can show some good intentions and good will in how they’re going to come into the community.”
As far as potential programming for the future space, Snow said she would like to see space for performance and art pieces, as well as recreational activities for families. She also said that it would be “an awesome place to have different markets” and pop up shops where local business could be supported.
She also said the existing plaza should remain “accessible for all different types of community events.”
Snow said that the $2.5 million asking price is “very fair, and I know that at that minimum price, it will also be able to secure the role of HSTF in the community for a long time.”
But the development of luxury condos would be a severe detriment to the neighborhood, Snow said, and “I would like to see some community benefits in terms of housing stability and supporting small businesses, especially the ones that are already there.”
Damaris Pimentel, owner of Ultra Beauty Shop and the leader of the Latin Quarter Business Association, said that “the church is an icon and a landmark in our neighborhood.”
She was a former parishioner who attended mass every Sunday, and she said that both of her kids went to Blessed Sacrament School.
She, too, said a cultural space for musical and artistic expression would be an ideal future use of the church space, and agreed with Snow that a small market would also be a nice addition.
“Something that represents the diversity of our neighborhood,” she said is what she would like to see.
Pimentel also stressed the importance of retaining the exterior of the church building and keeping the interior intact as much as possible, though repairs are necessary.
“Knocking it down would be stripping the neighborhood of an icon,” she said.
Dorothy Malcolm is a former parishioner of the Blessed Sacrament Church who said that the church is “almost overwhelming. It’s just wonderful.”he said remembers climbing up the choir ladder as a choir girl and the grandness of the building.
“Just looking at it as a piece of architecture and a piece of art,” Malcolm said that someone would “get a sense of why we need so much to save this building.”
She said that there are “such good people” living in the neighborhood, and “I would like a future developer with an eye toward community service and equality with a cultural endeavor. I want to see something beautiful and cultural as well as local and grassroots.”
Malcolm said she would also like to see space for performing arts and art exhibits that would bring in “the youth of JP and their families,” as well as expand out to the greater Boston area. She said it could also potentially be used as a facility for auditions and chorale and orchestral groups.
She said HSTF “deserves credit for all they’ve done” in the neighborhood and their efforts to try and redevelop the building. “You cannot fault them, because they’ve done a remarkable job,” Malcolm said.
“Our hands are not tied. That’s where we come in.”
The Friends of Blessed Sacrament petition can be found at change.org/p/mayor-boston-gov-save-blessed-sacrament-church-for-the-community?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=762b60e0-315e-11e6-8729-61d24ecdb47a.