As Construction Alters Closed Church, Jamaica Plain Builds Its Community

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Blessed Sacrament’s soaring dome is a symbol of Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square neighborhood.

“This has been a landmark in JP for 100 years and it’s also one of the few significant pieces of land that’s left in JP,” says Richard Thal, the executive director of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), a community group that works to create affordable housing.

Jamaica Plain's Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by construction here, is being transformed into a housing complex. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

In 2005, JPNDC beat out commercial bidders and bought the church property from the Archdiocese of Boston for $6 million.

“This is the story of an incredible community that was so engaged,” Thal says, “where hundreds of people came together and said, ‘We have got to find a way to make this a community resource.’ ”

They did that by overcoming roadblocks of financing, zoning and planning to develop the three acres in a heavily residential neighborhood. While there will no longer be any religious worship at the church, part of the building will remain accessible to the community. The most challenging part of the project will be converting the 1,200-seat church — built back in 1890 — into housing.

Inside, the ceiling reaches 10 stories high. The Archdiocese took the stained glass windows for another church, but the space still feels religious.

“This area in the initial design is preserved as the common space, as an atrium,” says Brian Goldson, of New Atlantic Development, the firm that is overseeing construction of a four-story building inside the church. It will be what is called a co-housing complex — a type of condo where residents live as a community.

“Taking a church and turning it into housing is a bit of a challenge,” Goldson says. “You ask the church what it wants to be and it tells you it wants to be a church, not a bunch of condos.”

From the outside, Blessed Sacrament will still look like a church, which is comforting to the community.

“We heard from a lot of the neighbors and former parishioners that they would support the kind of vibrant mixed-use, mixed-income redevelopment of this parcel, but if they did anything with the church they would never talk to us,” Thal says. “That was just out of the question as far as they were concerned.”

Richard Thal, left, and Brian Goldson stand within the under-construction Blessed Sacrament church in Jamaica Plain. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

One of those neighbors and former parishioners is Demaris Pimental, who owns a beauty shop down the street. As a parishioner, she was devastated to see her spiritual home sold, but she is happy to see the Blessed Sacrament campus turned into homes community members can afford. She and others feared developers bidding for the property would raze the church building and put in luxury condominiums. Pimental says a mix of housing is better.

“It’s not good to have only low-income (housing),” Pimental says. “It’s good to have a little bit of market value. And keeping that balance is a challenge for our neighborhood because gentrification will change that unique taste of diversity that Jamaica Plain has.”

The rectory now has condos on sale at below-market rates. The convent is being converted into housing for formerly homeless people. Construction is half way done on a new apartment building and retail space. And two former school buildings will be rented, one possibly to a charter school.

All uses, community members say, that fit with the neighborhood.


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of seats in the church. The correct number is 1,200.

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