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Church Deacon: Preservation is Goal for Sacred Heart

Around a community worried about losing a landmark, parish closes historic Cutchogue church but has no plans to tear it down, say officials.

Church Deacon: Preservation is Goal for Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart, Cutchogue’s Roman Catholic Church, held its last mass the morning of Dec. 22. The historic building dating back to the 1870s is now closed indefinitely because it’s simply no longer safe for parishioners and repairs are estimated at around $2 million — too much to ask the community to raise, according to Deacon Jeff Sykes.

But despite worries from some church members that the Roman Catholic Diocese has plans to tear down the structure — a true landmark of downtown Cutchogue — Sykes said that is not the case.

“The Diocese is reactive, not proactive,” Sykes said. “The decision to close had to be made by us, the parish, not them. The plan was to close the doors, and we are not sure of future plans, but to say that we plan to tear it down is totally inaccurate.”

Sykes said the decision to close was made after church officials consulted with three different architects who estimated the extent and expense of repairs.

“The interior walls are detaching from the studs,” he said. “This is due to years of water damage leaking into the church — the foundation bricks are collapsing and the cross beams are rotted. We cannot guarantee the safety of the church.”

After the last mass last month, longtime churchgoers held a sit-in, protesting the closure. Despite assurances from church officials, Lynn McCaffery Stevens, one of the protest organizers with deep ties to Sacred Heart, said she still had her doubts about the motivation behind the closure.

“Once it’s closed, what is to stop them from tearing it down?” she said. “They say it’s not up to code, but nothing is up to code — this church is a historic landmark, not a municipal building. A lot of us find it hard to believe that it would cost $2 million to fix it. There are just too many questions, and we’re scared we’re going to lose the whole character of the town.”

Over 1,000 families belong to the Sacred Heart Parish, which for years has been shared between the Cutchogue church and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck. Sykes said that most parish activity takes place at the Mattituck location anyway, and that $1 million has been committed for renovations to that building.

For Sykes and Father Joseph Staudt, things will continue much as they have been now that Sacred Heart is closed. And though future plans for the historic building — which is recognized by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities and the state Department of Parks and Recreation — are uncertain around worried community, Sykes said that preservation is his focus for the coming year.

“We are taking steps to preserve this building the best that we can,” he said.

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