FALL RIVER — Nearly five years after the Diocese of Fall River closed St. Anne’s Church due to severe disrepair and dwindling membership, a group dedicated to saving the historic building has begun the first phase of a long-term project to repair the roof.
Years of neglected roof leaks led to plaster damage that caused St. Anne’s Church to be closed to the public.
The St. Anne Shrine Preservation Society said crews from J.G. Vandal Roofing and Starck Architects began work Nov. 10 on the church’s south roof, facing Middle Street.
“Over the past year, we [studied] the roof in detail [and] discovered that the gutters and downspouts were failing,” stated preservation society Vice President Jeff Montigny. “We decided to take a phased approach to the repairs aimed at repairing the worst damage first.”
Montigny said this phase of repairs will repair and replace the upper gutter and downspouts on the building’s south-facing side. The next phase will focus on “other areas on the roofline.”
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What happened to St. Anne’s Church?
On May 9, 2015, a large chunk of plaster fell from a 20-foot-high wall in the church’s nave during a Saturday afternoon Mass, due to persistent long-standing leaks in the building’s roof. No one was injured, but the city building inspector examined the building and ordered it closed for safety reasons.
The diocese closed the main church and its parish held services in a shrine downstairs until Nov. 25, 2018, when the diocese closed the parish.
At the time, Bishop Edgar da Cunha said a study by Starck Architects estimated that a complete restoration and renovation of the church would cost $13.5 million, a sum he said was out of reach.
Days after the announcement, Bill Starck of Starck Architects clarified that his report was a “soup to nuts” estimate for a complete rehabilitation of the building including electrical and HVAC work, and that the job could be tackled in portions to keep the building open. However, the diocese maintained its stance and closed the church.
Who is in charge of St. Anne’s Church now?
The Diocese of Fall River still owns the church building. The St. Anne Shrine Preservation Society, a nonprofit group of laypeople formed during the closure process, signed a 10-year lease with the diocese in 2019.
The group keeps the basement shrine open daily, and raises funds for repairs to reopen the main church.
Since taking over, the society said, it has completed a series of improvements, including the installation of three sump pumps to prevent flooding, repointing the church’s front steps, repairs to the steam boiler, placing a wheelchair elevator back in service, restoring its bells and more.
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When was St. Anne’s Church built?
The majestic building began construction in 1891, designed by Napoléon Bourassa. The building is constructed of blue marble with dual domed steeples 160 feet high. It was funded by French Canadian immigrants, and in its early days served primarily French Catholics.
Who is funding the repairs to St. Anne’s?
The preservation society accepts donations from the public. Tax-deductible donations can be made in person at the shrine’s gift shop, by mail to Saint Anne Shrine, 818 Middle St., Fall River, MA, 02721, or online at st-annes-shrine.org/donation.
“I would like to thank all of our donors … from the major donors to daily visitors who come to the shrine to purchase a candle,” Montigny stated. “All those funds are being utilized for the preservation of this building … for generations to come.”
Dan Medeiros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.