Parishioners and community members divided on whether convent should be demolished or saved for future use.
The community of Sleepy Eye is filled with buildings full of rich history–both in legends and architectural design.
Recently, the convent on the north side of St. Mary’s Church has come under harsher scrutiny than in previous years as a date for demolition draws near.
Once a home for the nuns, the building is primarily empty except for a small portion being used as an adoration chapel. According to Msgr. Eugene Lozinski, the building is beginning to deteriorate and has become a financial drain on the church.
St. Mary’s Church has been planning a building project on the north side of the church for some time. The project would include a larger entry way, two bathrooms, an elevator and an adoration chapel. The project also includes the demolition of the convent.
While Msgr. Eugene Lozinski has given approval for the demolition, a group of parishioners and Sleepy Eye locals have come together with a new proposal in hopes that Msgr. Lozinski will reconsider.
The group, including Chuck Spaeth, has offered to sign a contract with the parish whereby they would lease the convent for the next 25 years. Under the terms of the lease, the group would take full financial responsibility for all utilities and all maintenance of the building during the lease.
Msgr. Lozinski and the administrative council do not see this as a viable option.
“It (convent) is in very poor repair and is a financial drain because it has not been used that much,” Msgr. Lozinski said. “Construction plans call for an adoration chapel to be placed in the church, resulting in that building not being used at all.”
Msgr. Lozinski added that the demolition of the convent will add additional parking that is needed at this point.
The decision for the demolition, Lozinski said, was because parishioners could never decide on a purpose for the building and felt that spending money on a building with no purpose was not a wise investment.
“(This building) has been under study since I have been here for the past six years and even before that,” Msgr. Lozinski said. “The sisters have not lived there for the past 20 years... and in the meantime the building has been deteriorating. I do not think that saving the building at this point is an option.”
Spaeth disagrees. He said both the group and Msgr. Lozinski have received bids on fixing or replacing the roof, the windows and tuck pointing the exterior. Bids that Spaeth said totaled approximately $150,000.
“This convent is a part of the St. Mary’s Church campus and when renovated could be used as much as the pastor allows,” Spaeth said. “Up to this point, the lack of renovations have prohibited the proper use of the building.”
While some community members, like local historian Judy Beech, say that the demolition of a historical building such as the convent is a travesty, Spaeth is also looking at it from a financial perspective.
“I don’t think the majority of the people are aware of the financial pros and cons of the demolition and that it was, and still is, a good building,” Spaeth said. “Let’s make a good decision here. We are spending over $100,000 to tear a building down that doesn’t need to be torn down.”
Spaeth went on to say that he wants people to be aware that the building is not as bad as it has been portrayed. He agreed that the building will require some repair, however, Spaeth said structurally the building has scored relatively high.
“Although there is not a consensus on what to do with the convent, Msgr. Lozinski insists that the convent be torn down. I think there is a better alternative to demolition and that’s why we made the offer.” Spaeth added.
Spaeth said what he would like to see more than anything is for this conversation to continue.
“I care about this church and community, we all need to work together and do what’s best for the people,” he said. “I care about all of our buildings and businesses, and level heads need to talk about it, especially if demolition of a historical building is on the table. The facts need to be presented so that we can make good, informed decisions.”