By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Whether you prefer classic Joni Mitchell or the Counting Crows version, Holy Spirit Church’s possible demolition calls to mind the lyric “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
At least that is what may happen according to a developer seeking permission to demolish the century-plus Holy Spirit Church in Asbury Park, which was deconsecrated in 2021 and has been for sale since Feb. 17, 2021. Parishioners recalled their shock at hearing of the impending sale when it was announced during services. They were further demoralized when Bishop David M. O’Connell failed to attend the last service held in the church June 6, 2021.
According to a legal notice, a Planing Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 27 in City Council chambers to hold a hearing on an application to demolish the church on Second Avenue and subdivide the property into six lots. While the matter is on the agenda, a lot can change in the space of a few days. Planning Board Secretary Irina Gasparyan said the hearing could be put off if the board does not generate a quorum or if officials find there are deficiencies in notices sent to nearby property owners advising them of the hearing. Gasparyan said if the hearing is delayed, she will post that information as soon as possible at www.cityofasburypark.com/planning board. That also is the link where you can review application materials.
The JLD Investment Group LLC is the contract purchaser of the 49,027 square foot parcel at 703-705 Second Ave. Initially, the developer proposed high density for the site, which is in the city’s R1 zone, which permits single-family homes. The diocese’s price was $2.75 million.
In this current application, JLD wants to subdivide the lot into six lots, which will provide for six single-family homes. The proposal includes the demolition of Holy Spirit Church, which continues to be distressing for parishioners. Other buildings on site also would be scheduled for the wrecking ball.
“I think the problem is the bishop,” said attorney Thomas DeSeno, a long-time parishioner at Holy Spirit. “He is just not listening to anyone who has an alternate plan to save the church and I don’t know why. There are several offers to save the church and he is not listening to any of them.”
DeSeno, whose family has a long history in Asbury Park, received confirmation at Holy Spirit and who was graduated from the adjacent grammar school in 1978. The school has been turned into residential units.
Holy Spirit Church was built in the 1880s and is noted for its stained glass, marble interior and statues as well as its carved stations of the cross.
“It is an absolute sin to destroy 125 year of history,” said Irene Burney, a parishioner for more than 30 years. “We’ve been through all of this for the last two years…and my heart is broken. I cannot believe they would destroy this magnificent church.”
Burney said she sent a letter to the bishop opposing the demolition of the rectory but only received a form letter back.
“We always gave, we always contributed,” Burney said. “We were big supporters.”
“It makes no sense,” said Burney, noting the parish was starting to attract younger members when it was shuttered. “They dropped everything. It leaves a really lousy taste, it really does. You lose your faith.”
She supports the idea of letting another congregation use the church or converting it into a library.
“Just don’t destroy this building,” she pleaded.
Joan Schuler, Interlaken was a member since moving to Asbury Park from Jersey City in 1968. She recalled the woman from whom she purchased her Sunset Avenue home also was Catholic and gave her the sense that there was only one Catholic Church in Asbury: Holy Spirit. Her son, Richard, was the church organist for about 40 years, she said.
“It is so crazy, this whole thing has been nothing but crazy,” she said. “First they were tearing it down, then they weren’t. They are taking away something we love.”
Schuler, who enrolled her five children in Holy Spirit’s school, saw two graduate before the school was closed in the 1980s.
One alternative to development was proposed by Shore Christian Center, which lacks a brick-and-mortar church. Services are held at the House of Independents, Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park, every Sunday but Pastor Isaac Freidel has been campaigning for consideration and has been making offers to the diocese.
“I was a little shocked to hear it was slated for demolition,” said Freidel. “They are really going to knock it down? That’s insane.”
The contract purchaser at first proposed w build townhomes there even though such housing density is not a permitted use in the R1 zone.
“This is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen,’ Friedel has said. “It was meant to be a holy place. For it to be anything else would be a travesty.”
Friedel confirmed some information circulating in the community after a parishioner traveled to the Monmouth County Hall of Records and examined the original deed. Signed by James Bradley in 1881, it put limits on what could be built upon that site. He prohibited housing and liquor stores, among other uses.
“It will be interesting to se what they do with that” information, Freidel said.
Rayanne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said she would have to research the matter further to provide information. But several weeks ago, she indicated church officials were finalizing the transaction with JDL.