Saving the SouthCoast’s historic churches and religious buildings

What is the public value of restoring historic religious buildings on the south coast?

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

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

So does anyone look after 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: to reverse a trend of neglect,” said Ray Hanks of Mattapoisett, the man who initiated the project. “Somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 religious structures in the US are on their way out and becoming an eyesore.

Hanks said many of the older, more established members of the community are dying, leaving no funds to keep up with maintenance.

“In addition, these historic sites are likely to be the site of important community events and centers for the delivery of needed social services,” Hanks said. “From Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, neighborhood watch meetings, polling stations, soup kitchens and the like, churches hold great importance year after year and are truly worthy of our preservation efforts.”

How does this organization get its funding?

“When we gave St. Anthony of Padua Church a $3,000 gift for their disability accessibility project, the money was raised from our Italian dinner,” Hanks said.

The next fundraising soiree, titled “A Taste of Italy,” welcomes attendees on May 21 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the East Freetown VFW at 89 Middleboro Road for eat-in or take-out. There will be a bar and a DJ. Tickets are available at the Unitarian Church at 71 8th Street, St. Anthony’s Credit Union and also at the box office.

“Our old, historic religious buildings serve as a reminder of New Bedford’s culture and interesting past,” Hanks said. “The mere sight of a historic religious building is a visual reflection of the cultural heritage of this area, and we should never lose sight of that.”

For more information, call 508-789-7200 or email [email protected]

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