HALLOWELL — In a symbolic vote tonight, city councilors urged Maine’s Catholic diocese to keep Sacred Heart church open.

Last week, the Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of Sacred Heart and the Augusta-based St. Michael Catholic Parish, told the Kennebec Journal that after meeting with 75 church parishioners, he would “probably” recommend closure of the 318-member church, though he hasn’t made a final decision.

Then, Morin said if Bishop Richard Malone, head of the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, were to accept Morin’s likely recommendation, the Summer Street church, built in 1878, should close in October to avoid the expense of heating the church and its associated buildings — a rectory next door and the parish hall across the street.

Councilor Mark Sullivan, who represents the side of Summer Street the church sits on, introduced a resolution to urge the diocese to keep it open. It passed unanimously.

It asks the diocese to keep the church open so it can “continue to provide spiritual and humanitarian support to our community.”

“The feedback I’ve gotten from folks who heard about this has been just terrific,” Sullivan. “They recognize it’s a steep hill they’re trying to climb up, but they are very pleased that they did this.”

Mayor Charlotte Warren wrote a Sept. 3 letter to Morin saying Sacred Heart has been “a vital part of our community for decades” and offering assistance on zoning matters or letters of support for grants if that assistance would aid the diocese in keeping the church open.

Talk of possible closure comes after the August death of the Rev. George Hickey, Sacred Heart’s pastor since 1999. In 2007, the diocese agreed that after his retirement or incapacitation, the church would become part of St. Michael Parish, which runs churches in Augusta, Gardiner, Whitefield and Winthrop.

Morin couldn’t be reached today for comment on whether or not help the mayor offered could aid the diocese in keeping the Hallowell church open.

“Whether it will have an impact, we’ll have to wait and see,” Sullivan said of the resolution and Warren’s letter.

In other council business, Councilor David Bustin, a former city mayor, was sworn in to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of former Councilor Edmund Cervone. The move followed a 4-2 vote by the council to approve his recommendation, made by Warren.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
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