Save Historic Churches and Religious Buildings on the South Coast

What is the public value of restoring historic SouthCoast religious buildings?

A short answer is that in most past cultures, churches, synagogues, and mosques were the most architecturally expressive buildings and the most influential buildings in the community.

In New Bedford and on the South Coast, religious structures play a fundamental role in our community, as they define our local history and our past cultures. However, with a shortage of clergy and parishioners, decades of deferred maintenance have left them increasingly vulnerable to deterioration and loss.

So, does anyone care about these historic sacred properties?

The Robitaille Legacy Project is a 501c3 non-profit group, formed to support the restoration and preservation of long-standing religious architectural structures in and around New Bedford.

“Our mission is simple; reverse a trend of neglect,” said Ray Hanks of Mattapoisett, the man who started the project. “Somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 religious structures in the United States are about to disappear, becoming an eyesore. We are trying to keep old classical meeting places and shrines from being bulldozed.

Hanks said many older, established parishioners were passing away and that left no funds for upkeep.

“Additionally, these historic places are likely to be the setting for important community events and provide needed social services,” Hanks said. “From Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, neighborhood watch rallies, polling places, soup kitchens and the like, churches hold great significance year after year, and are truly worthy of our preservation efforts.”

How does this organization get its funding?

“When we presented a $3,000 donation to St. Anthony of Padua Church for their Disability Accessibility Project, the money was raised through our Italian dinner,” Hanks said.

The next fundraising evening, titled “A Taste of Italy,” invites attendees to eat in or take out on May 21, 4-8 p.m., at the East Freetown VFW, located at 89 Middleboro Road. There will be a cash bar and a DJ. Tickets are available at the Unitarian Church at 71 8th Street, St. Anthony’s Credit Union, and will also be available at the door.

“Our historic old religious buildings are a reminder of New Bedford’s culture and interesting past,” Hanks said. “Just seeing a historic religious building is a visual flashback to the cultural heritage of this region, and we must never lose sight of that.”

For more information, call 508-789-7200 or email gerbs1950@yahoo.com.

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