Residents, others plea with Columbus diocese to spare St. Dominic's rectory from demolition

Preservationists and some Near East Side leaders and residents are asking the Catholic Diocese of Columbus to hold off demolishing the rectory of St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church and mothball the home until someone can figure out another use.

The city is to issue a demolition permit on Tuesday that will allow the diocese to tear down the rectory. Built around 1900, it’s part of the fabric of the neighborhood, said residents and church members.

“Why is the Catholic church so adamant to tear it down?” asked Willis Brown, a neighborhood activist and member of the Near East Area Commission. “I can’t believe the diocese is so insensitive.”

The rectory at 453 N. 20th St. has been vacant for six years and was damaged when a nearby duplex exploded in June 2018. The blast caused as much as $200,000 in damage to the church’s eight stained-glass windows and several doors. The rectory’s windows are boarded up, just as they are on the north side of the church next door.

Officials with the diocese filed for a demolition permit in mid-December, and the 60-day waiting period for community feedback expires on Tuesday.

Becky West, executive director of Columbus Landmarks, said she met with diocese representatives last week in an effort to persuade them to preserve the building. To “button it up,” so to speak, she said.

“Unfortunately in this neighborhood there are many of these types of buildings missing from the landscape,” West said of the Queen Anne-style home. “The remaining ones are valuable and worth fighting for.”

According to a Jan. 24 email from Bruce Boylan, the diocese’s facilities director, to another diocesan official, provided to Columbus Landmarks, the building needs to be torn down because the blast not only destroyed the windows and doors but also blew bricks off the chimney.

Moving it is not an option either, Boylan wrote. “Trying to move a structure that is falling apart and has a basement seems to be a recipe for extra costs and delays,” he wrote. Insurance is covering demolition costs, he wrote.

A statement the diocese released Monday afternoon said that while it is listening to Columbus Landmarks regarding the building’s future, it has concerns leaving an unused and unattended building on church property.

Annie Womack, of the Near East Area Commission, said her neighborhood group opposes the demolition. Members want to see the building saved.

Rachelle Martin, a 69-year-old parishioner and former secretary of the parish council, said she talked to an interim parish priest about the demolition, and he told her it was a done deal.

Martin said she told him that parishioners, most of whom are African-American, knew nothing about the rectory’s proposed fate. She estimated the church has about 200 families.

“We as members of the church were not given the opportunity to meet about it,” said Martin, who is also the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Franklin County and former director of Black Catholic Ministries.

Ann Seren, 79, who lives in the Eastmoor neighborhood on Columbus’ East Side, attended St. Dominic’s while growing up. “I just feel connected there since childhood,” said Seren, who sent a letter to the bishop opposing the demolition.

Seren said she thinks of Columbus “as a tear-down town.”

She said the rectory has stood there since the turn of the 19th century, and she’d like it to stay that way.

“That neighborhood is just poised to be hot again,” Seren said. “I’m not a fan of infill housing. That could be almost anything than a vacant lot.”

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@MarkFerenchik