PHOTO: St. Agnes Thrift Store. photos by Allan Dean
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – An update of church property ownership, the possibility of sale of other properties and changes in both employment and programs geared to all help cut costs and ensure savings for the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes were announced in Sunday bulletins last week and ensure a busy few months in improving the financial situation of the parish.
At the same time, the Rev. Fernando Lopez, pastor, issued a call for volunteers to help with two major projects that will help ease costs and improve efficiency, noting the projects could be well handled by teens with adult supervision and experience.
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“We all want to keep both Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Agnes churches open because they are both so needed for our parishioners,” the pastor said. “While there is no danger of church closings, we all also know what happens when costs get high and contributions drop because of increased expenses at home.”
Currently, Father is asking for volunteers, both teens and adults, who can help move furniture and equipment from one borough to the other and to help in a major clean-up of the St. Agnes Thrift Shop. “There are always ways people can volunteer and we welcome all of it,” the pastor said, “but these are the current most important needs this summer.”
In the church bulletin this past Sunday, Father Fernando gave an update of the sale of the parking lot at the Highlands church location, a matter that has been in negotiations with the borough of Highlands for a couple of years. The borough plans to purchase the parking lot along Navesink Ave, including the two church-owned buildings adjacent to the lot, one currently used for a food pantry the other as a thrift shop. The pastor said the final contact for transfer of the property on which the borough plans to build its municipal building, is anticipated to be signed this fall now that the Land Use Board has approved plans. Demolition of both the rectory on Navesink ave. and the three-car garage behind it is anticipated to be started within a couple of weeks. The demolished buildings will provide additional parking for churchgoers accustomed to using the Route 36 lot which will now under construction for the borough.
Father Fernando also announced that Mother Theresa school, formerly St. Agnes school, and now closed for several years, is also up for sale and that transactions are under the Diocese of Trenton office rather than locally. “There has been lots of interest, but no firm offers have been received,” the priest told the parishioners warning that “it could take years if it happens at all.”
Also, in Atlantic Highlands, Father Fernando said demolition will begin before autumn on the former convent, another building which has been vacant several months and which was severely damaged through burst pipes last winter and considerable interior problems. Insurance for the water damage would not cover the needed repairs, including wiring, heating and electric, so rebuilding the house is not cost effective, leaving no other option than demolition.
Final plans have not been made for the house where the Thrift Shop is operated in Atlantic highlands, Father Fernando continued, but it will remain open after interior renovations until a final decision is made on its future. The thrift shop will close for a few weeks this summer, but will open under new reorganization, cleaning, and more economic moves to make it more profitable.
Both churches in the parish will also see some interior repairs, the pastor continued, noting it is necessary to replace the frames on the windows to ensure preservation of the valuable stained glass. The priest’s sacristy adjacent to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church will also receive minor improvements including replacing an unusable sink, painting and shelving installation. The lights in the St. Agnes parking lot will be repaired or replaced in another work project slated for the fall.
Father Fernando has made some personnel and instruction location changes to ensure continued financial improvement. When religious education classes start in the fall, they will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School rather than in Atlantic Highlands to eliminate the high expenses of keeping the vacated Mother Theresa school open for minimal use. Religious Education Director Kevin Connelly will manage the transition of property and equipment from one building to the other, Father said, and invites volunteers to assist in the move.
There will also be a mass time change at St. Agnes Church beginning June 30 and July 1, Father Fernando continued. The Saturday evening 5 p.m. masses will now begin at 5:15 p.m. and the 10:30 a.m. Sunday masses will begin at 10:45 a.m. That move enables the parish to retain Courtney Grogan as the organist for both churches, rather than additional payments for other musicians. Ms Grogan will assume responsibility for all music in both churches, and the 15-minute later schedule for the St. Agnes masses will enable her to complete the 4 p.m. Saturday and the 9:30 a.m. Sunday masses at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and still travel to St. Agnes for her duties there.
“We have a wonderful, growing and thriving parish,” Father Fernando said, “we are facing the same financial problems everyone is facing in their own homes, and we have to work hard to maintain all our facilities. Volunteering enables us to save on expenses and enables our parishioners to work together in a pleasant environment.”