Despite grim outlook, Archbishop puts Tacoma’s Holy Rosary Church demolition on temporary hold

The new Archbishop of Seattle had a deadline last week to respond to an appeal to save Tacoma’s Holy Rosary Catholic Church from demolition. He could rule against it, in favor of it, or pass the decision to higher-ups.

On Thursday, Archbishop Paul Etienne punted. He sent a letter to church parishioners outlining why the previous archbishop, J. Peter Sartain, marked the church for demolition on Aug. 24.

But before any wrecking ball starts swinging or a savior steps in, Etienne wants to meet with the parish’s leadership councils, he said.

“Given the change in leadership during this recourse period, I need time to speak with your leadership team, review the issues, and make an informed, thoughtful, and prayerful response,” Etienne wrote.

Etienne acknowledged the letters and petitions his office had received from parishioners and other citizens in support of saving Holy Rosary.

“However, at this time, I am neither denying nor granting recourse against my predecessor’s decree,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the group organized to save the building, Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church, said in a statement:

After last week’s 11th hour delivery of a letter to Holy Rosary from new Archbishop Paul Etienne, we are continuing to forge ahead with our plans to Save Holy Rosary.

“The letter has done a few things. It has officially let us know that the petition(s) for recourse were acknowledged to have been received in a timely manner in proper format.

“We are overjoyed that the Archbishop has taken the time over the last few weeks to reach out to Holy Rosary Parish and that he intends to meet with the leadership himself before offering his final decision.

“It also shows us that Archbishop Etienne is taking the time with the decision giving it the necessary gravity that it calls for. Holy Rosary is an important icon in the Tacoma skyline and a work of architectural mastery that could not be replicated.”

The Seattle Archdiocese’s report that accompanied the letter provided more details on what it says needs to be done with the church to renovate it fully. The assessment came after consultants spent more than 800 hours going over the building earlier this year.

“Through that process, it became clear that the renovation cost to re-occupy the building and complete the necessary building envelope repairs would be approximately $7 million,” the letter stated. “To make all required structural repairs to ensure the long-term structural safety of the building, the total cost would be nearly $18 million.”

Trouble for the century-old church began — or least became a crisis — just over a year ago when sheetrock fell from the ceiling and onto church pews. The church, with its 210-foot-tall steeple at Tacoma Avenue South and South Delin Street, can be seen from Interstate 5 and much of Tacoma.

The falling plaster was just a harbinger of more significant problems the church faced. It was closed and a fence was erected around it.

The Archdiocese’s letter provided a breakdown of problems and their estimated repair costs:

  • Church interior repair: $562,203
  • Exterior scaffolding: $1,969,050
  • Exterior repairs: $2,125,962
  • Tower structural repair and seismic upgrades: $3,945,389
  • Church seismic upgrades: $5,141,861
  • Reroofing, flashing, gutters and asbestos abatement: $1,292,387
  • Stained glass window preservation and caulking/painting: $642,733
  • Aging mechanical and electrical system work: $1,186,583
  • Stormwater collection repairs: $98,882
  • Bridal room and basement repairs: $642,733
  • Total: $17,607,782

The letter gave a sour financial assessment of the parish itself, stating that the parish’s income does not cover its operating expenses.

“The parish has been running a net operating loss between $47,000 and $104,000 for the past five years,” it said.

The Archdiocese’s research team determined that a large capital campaign would not be successful. It might generate $100,000, if it was lucky.

Grants to religious organizations, the letter added, are rare.

In its statement, Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church said, “All we are asking for is a chance to try.

“We need to be able to show that the means do exist to restore Holy Rosary. Fundraising so far has us nearing the $400,000 mark in donations and pledges, while this is nowhere near what we will need, it’s a valiant and promising effort for just a few months time.”

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.