Demolition of the 150-year old St. Teresa’s Catholic Church in Hyde Park has drawn criticism and tears from parishioners who used to attend services there.
“A lot of us are feeling heartbroken and sad,” Denise Marcoux said.
“It’s terrible; it’s breaking my heart and a lot of people’s hearts around here,” Marcoux said. “It’s a beautiful, historic landmark.”
“It has meant a lot to so many of us,” Aldron Wolff said, her emotions nearly getting the best of her and her voice wavering during a phone interview.
Demolition of the historic building began a few weeks ago with the removal of the church bell. Before long, all that will be left of St. Teresa’s — which was home to Masses, weddings, funerals and baptisms for nearly 15 decades — will be the former parish hall that sits across the street in Hyde Park village.
Construction of St. Teresa’s Church in Hyde Park began in 1871 and services began there in 1872.
“I cannot imagine it in shambles,” Wolff said. “I know there’s probably not a thing I can do but I have to say it to somebody: It’s a very very sad thing. It’s almost like losing a family member.”
She and her husband began attending services at St. Teresa’s in 1998 when they moved to the area.
“It wasn’t just four walls; it was a beautiful old church with a lot of heart and spirit and you can’t find that anymore,” Marcoux said. She was a lifelong parishioner of St. Teresa’s; her family helped built the church 150 years ago.
The decision to demolish the building wasn’t made quickly, or lightly.
“After several years of no Masses or other religious services there, and the physical structure itself needing serious attention to be maintained and kept safe, the decision was made to raze the building,” said the Rev. Jon Schnobrich, who oversees both the Most Holy Name of Jesus and Blessed Sacrament Catholic churches in Morristown and Stowe, respectively. Several years ago, the Diocese of Burlington decided to combine the Catholic parishes in Hyde Park, Johnson and Eden under the umbrella of the Morristown church, and Schnobrich, pastor of Blessed Sacrament in Stowe, began overseeing the Morristown parish after the pastor, the Rev. Francis Privé, retired in 2019.
The Catholic churches in Eden and Johnson, St. Gabriel’s and St. John the Apostle, have already been sold by the diocese. St. Teresa’s has been for sale, but has not attracted a buyer, in part because of the building’s decay.
Wolff and her husband now attend Mass in Morristown, but they sometimes drive by St. Teresa’s on their way to church from their home in Eden.
“It’s that special to us,” she said.
The Hyde Park church and parish center across the street are for sale, Schnobrich said, but “the condition of the church building itself had become a deterrent for potential buyers,” which factored into the decision to demolish it.
“The parish did try to look for opportunities to sell. The land has value, but the building became an encumbrance,” said Monsignor John McDermott, the vicar general for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which oversees all Catholic churches in Vermont.
The church foundation, heating and plumbing systems all have problems, McDermott said.
“We’re looking at something that is 150 years old, and it really started to show its age,” he said. “The parish decided it was better to take it down rather than do something else with it.”
If the property is sold, the proceeds will go toward constructing a new church that will serve nearly all of Lamoille County.
Schnobrich added that he and other church officials know how important St. Teresa’s was to its parishioners, and they were all invited to one last church ceremony on Sunday, May 31.
“Some folks came by to share memories; others took a memento of the church, and then those present stayed to pray the rosary together,” Schnobrich said.
That seems to be small comfort to the people who know and love St. Teresa’s, though.
“They can’t take away our memories, but it’s a shame to take away the building,” Wolff said.
“I know it’s a done deal, but you just keep hoping that there will be a miracle somehow, that the stained-glass windows and the bell will come back to the church,” Marcoux said.
What St. Teresa’s was like
Marcoux and Wolff described the St. Teresa’s community as a close-knit family, more than a group of people who happened to attend church together, and now that’s been lost.
“I was born and raised in Hyde Park. I’d been going to St. Teresa’s ever since I was a kid until they decided to close it,” Marcoux said. She vividly remembers midnight masses at St. Teresa’s and a slew of other special services from her childhood, but the church wasn’t just a home for Marcoux for most of her 67 years. It was also intimately tied to the history of her family.
“My grandfather was one of the ones who helped build it way back. A lot of old families got together and built this church.” Marcoux said. Her father, Rene Marcoux, and uncles were also involved, organizing the choir and playing music for decades, and they also helped make significant upgrades to the building — included placing a new cross atop the building.
The work by the Marcoux family and others even gave St. Teresa’s a nickname — the singing church.
“There was always music. There were articles written about how welcoming it was, the music. It was a good place to worship,” Marcoux said.
“The whole church sang. We did have a choir,” but everyone else sang, too. “When visitors came, they would remark as to how beautiful the Mass was, the singing, how people welcomed visitors,” Marcoux said.
Wolff’s husband served in the military and the couple and their four children moved all over the country until his retirement. At each stop, the first thing they did “was find our church.”
It was an easy choice in Lamoille County.
“The first time we walked into that church, there was such a feeling of home — and we’d never even been inside before,” Wolff said. “We didn’t know a soul but we had a feeling of ‘OK, we’re going to be fine,’ when we walked in the door.
“It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to us in our military life,” Wolff said. “It was more like a family than a group of church parishioners; we were just that close. Everyone looked after everyone else.”
She sees the demolition as the culmination of a process that started years ago, combining the parishes in Lamoille County.
“When it first closed, there was nothing we could do,” Wolff said. “Now, there’s nothing we can do to save it.”
When the three churches in Eden, Hyde Park and Johnson closed, people were all promised they’d still keep their identities as separate parishes, Marcoux said, and that hasn’t happened.
She remembers a tooth-and-nail fight against closing those churches.
“We all went to bat; we sent letters and had petitions and did fundraising. We really tried to keep our church going,” she said.
Closure of St. Teresa’s divided the parishioners, and the community they were a part of.
“We worshipped as a community,” Marcoux said, “then all of a sudden we were told one day the church is closed, everyone had to go to Holy Cross,” the former name of the Catholic church in Morristown.
Not all went to the Morristown church. “Some went to Stowe, some went to Hardwick, some to Cambridge, some quit the religion,” Marcoux said. “It separated friends; it separated families.”
Her own family split, too; her father began attending church in Stowe while she began attending Mass in Hardwick with her mother and sisters. Now, the remaining members of her family attend church in Morristown.
“To have that little church torn down, it’s beyond belief. It means so much to so many people,” Wolff said.
“It’s all about money. Politics and money. They want to build a new church and we can’t afford it,” Marcoux said.
Vision for the future
State-level Catholic leaders didn’t make the decision to tear down St. Teresa’s, but “the diocese is supportive of it,” McDermott said. “The condition of the church had deteriorated greatly over the last number of years.”
Beyond that, the countywide vision is to bring almost all Lamoille County Catholics together in one parish. The new church will likely be in Morrisville, McDermott said, but Hyde Park or another nearby town are also possibilities.
McDermott acknowledged that tearing down a building steeped in history and faith is an emotional undertaking, and he praised Schnobrich for telling former parishioners about the plan and offering a last chance to visit St. Teresa’s.
“He had volunteers making phone calls, especially to the people who would have been more traditionally associated with St. Teresa’s,” McDermott said.
“I’ve worked with other parishes that have had to sell buildings. It’s always sad,” he said. “In some ways it’s like a death in the family.”
McDermott said all the stained-glass windows were removed from St. Teresa’s, along with the cross on the steeple and the church bell. All were put in storage and could be used in the new church.
McDermott sees an opportunity to “build a new church that will serve the community for another 150 years.”
“Although it’s sad, this is an opportunity for new growth and renewal,” McDermott said.