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FEMA Section 106 Notices for Louisiana
Comment on "Public Notice Regarding Historic Review of the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, 5500 Paris Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana with linked PDF attachments "
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Name: Robert Schoen
City: New Orleans LA
Specific
property
affected:
Cabrini Church
Comments: Because of the grass root efforts to save St. Frances Cabrini Church, the Friends of Cabrini have been labeled as obstructionists, despite the fact that they explicitly endorse the newly planned Holy Cross campus. Had it not been for them and the achitectural historians and other involved parishioners outraged by the autocratic closing of their church orchestrated by the now discredited Father William Maestri in order to pocket the 8 million plus insurance policies on the church and adjacent school, Cabrini would have been already destroyed in violation of FEMA's 106 review procedure, and Holy Cross would have forfeited twenty million dollars in federal tax money needed to rebuild.

Most people are unaware of how remarkably beautiful Cabrini Church is, and that it was lovingly built by and is entirely owned by its parishioners, not the Archdiocese. The church weathered Katrina with practically no structural damage. The land deed on which it stands is in the parish's name and Cabrini cannot be torn down without parishioner's consent. Last July the Archdiocese attempted to simulate this requirement in a poorly advertised town meeting for parishioners to consider the Holy Cross proposal, never informing them there would be a vote on the church's future.

Only ten percent of parishioners braved a severe thunderstorm to attend and were told Cabrini was damaged beyond repair, contrary to two reports by the Archdiocese's own experts. Many in attendance were nonparishioners from Holy Cross, with only a loosely enforced honor code preventing them from participating in the show of hands vote. Ever since the Archdiocese has claimed this sham vote constituted parish consent to demolish Cabrini. Boston's Council of Parishes is now assisting Cabrini parishioners in seeking oversight from the Vatican of the plans to tear down their church without a suppression decree. We propose to use insurance money from Katrina to restore and operate Cabrini autonomously, at no expense to Holy Cross or the Archdiocese.

Holy Cross acquired almost twenty acres surrounding the church with the stipulation it set aside two acres for Cabrini parishioners to build a new church. The current church sits on two acres and would cost nearly $700,000 to demolish. What sense does it make to tear down an award winning community landmark to build an inferior church somewhere else on the same land? Cabrini was built with quality materials and craftsmanship that would be nearly impossible to afford today. The twenty five million dollars budgeted for the new Holy Cross campus would barely approach the cost of replicating it. This wasteful plan recalls the great folly of tearing down the Rivergate, another irreplaceable modern architectural gem now lost forever to bad politics. Not only has the Archdiocese made a terrible decision, but they lack the humility and good sense to admit they are wrong.

If Holy Cross moves into Gentilly the parish will have an even greater need for the large church. Only years ago Holy Cross had to hold its ring ceremony in Cabrini because it lacked a sufficiently large auditorium, thus proving the church can be a tremendous asset. Holy Cross alumnus Clancy DuBois has said that Cabrini wouldn't fit into the new pseudo nineteenth century styled campus, which calls for a gazebo where the church stands. However it seems the height of hypocrisy that Holy Cross wants to replicate their own ninth ward architectural history while tearing down that of the parish they are attempting to move into, a church dedicated to the city's most renowned and compassionate local Saint.

To parishioners, Cabrini represents much more than just a beautiful building. It has served as the heart of its community, a place where baptisms, communions, weddings and funerals were held for almost fifty years. That is why the recent comments of a few parishioners criticizing the church over easily correctable maintenance issues ring so hollow. We believe the families of the Cabrini neighborhood deserve the continuity of the church they have come to rely upon for generations.

Perhaps Cabrini's ultimate undoing was not Katrina but the 4.2 million dollar insurance payout it received afterwards. With the church slated for demolition, the Archdiocese would presumably keep this money to cover its many underinsured properties, after realizing a profit of one million dollars from the sale of the land surrounding Cabrini to Holy Cross.

If a Louisiana politician had forged the same type of sweetheart deal that resulted in the destruction of a irreplaceable landmark church, a disenfranchised parish, and the pocketing of an earmarked insurance settlement, then had the audacity to ask for federal tax dollars to pay for the church's demolition to accomplice it, this would instantly draw national headlines as the worst type of post- Katrina institutional abuse imaginable. Fr. Maestri and the Archdiocese are exploiting the desperation of the Gentilly community longing to revitalize their neighborhood by inaccurately framing the debate as a choice between Cabrini church or Holy Cross, when both a perfectly capable of coexisting together. I hope common sense and logic will prevail in preserving this important landmark church.

My thanks to all the anonymous posters who commented on my previous post. The nerve I touched in you was the one connected to your perception of the truth. The many Holy Cross orchestrated comments of supposed Catholics screaming to "tear down the church" are almost comical in nature. It is heartening the the latest posts, prompted no doubt by the Times Picayune article, have more the ring of objectivity in their calls for keeping the church. It would be one thing if the Holy Cross community was paying for the new campus with their own money instead of relying on federal tax dollars. The unreasonableness and arrogance of their position, not to allow this magnificent church to stand on the 20 acre parcel, is becoming more apparent to the greater Catholic community in New Orleans by the day.