Demolition Alert 23: St. John the Evangelist Church in South Portland, Maine

Picture of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in South Portland Maine

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in South Portland Maine, Source: Google Maps

Another day, another church may bite the dust in Northern New England. More specifically, the former St. John the Evangelist Catholic church may be torn down to put up a Dunkin Donuts–because clearly we don’t have enough Dunkin Donuts.

Fortunately, there is a complicated plan to move the proposed Dunkin Donuts to a city-owned, vacant lot just down the road. While the plan would not only save the church, the move, while only a block away, would be much better for the area. St. John acts as a transition from a commercial area to a residential area, known as Thornton Heights. This plan would preserve that transition while locating the Dunkin Donuts more squarely in the commercial corridor.

More broadly, this is yet another example of a clash that is becoming all too common in Northern New England–declining religious attendance (forcing the closure of churches) and the historic preservation of architecturally significant buildings. According to the Pew Research Center, only 42 percent of Mainers say that religion is very important to their lives–as it is in all of New England.

Of course, it is not our place to say whether or not people should go to church, but it is also not possible for every church in Northern New England to become a community center either in order to save them. How do we solve this dilemma? Frankly, we are getting tired of seeing these wonderful buildings torn down to become senior housing or a parking lot.

We don’t have the answers to this complex problem, but it appears that this trend is not going to reverse itself any time soon. Communities with churches closing need to take proactive steps to insure that they remain standing. Losing these beautiful buildings will erode the picturesque urban fabric of Northern New England that everyone loves. Just try to imagine a village with no church steeple? We can’t either.


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