Catholics To Phoenix Council: We Want Sacred Heart Church Details In Writing

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018 - 8:20am
Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2018 - 8:25am

Sacred Heart Church
Christina Estes/KJZZ
In the 1980s, Phoenix used eminent domain to take control of 35 acres as part of Sky Harbor Airport's expansion.

The future of a historic church in Phoenix remains unknown — at least until next month. The Phoenix City Council was expected to vote on a deal Wednesday that would have led to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix reopening the historic Sacred Heart Church. But not everyone’s sold on the plans for the northeast corner of 16th Street and Buckeye Road.

In the 1980s, the city used eminent domain to take about 35 acres of land for airport expansion. Hundreds of residents were forced to move and bulldozers leveled homes. But Sacred Heart parishioners fought to keep their church standing.

Even after the Diocese stopped using it, a nonprofit called Braun Sacred Heart Center  convinced Phoenix to open the city-owned building every year for Christmas mass. Now, three decades later, Pete Dimas, executive director of the center, told council members more time is needed.

“We have not had the opportunity to really look at this arrangement that was put forward,” he said. “It was basically dropped on us.”

He wants to ensure the center has input and access to the church, but just how much access was unclear.

Braun Sacred Heart Center’s Chairman of the Board, Abe Arvizu Jr., told the council he expected to be working with Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), a nonprofit that reached an agreement with the city late last year to develop a mixed-use project with the understanding that CPLC would make a good faith effort to engage with the Diocese.

Abe Arvizu Jr.
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Abe Arvizu Jr., with the Sacred Heart Braun Center, speaks to Phoenix City Council members on May 16, 2018..

“CPLC came forward and was going to rehabilitate the church, turn it over to the Braun Sacred Heart Center, and then we were going to use it for everybody, including the Diocese,” Arvizu said.

If the council was not willing to vote against the proposal, he asked that members continue it so the groups involved could define expectations.

“We need to have it in writing and the staff needs to make sure that that’s done and they can do it so that we don’t lose this again,” Arvizu said. “I don’t have another 32 years of life. Neither do a lot of folks sitting out here and it’s not fair to us and the people who have died fighting this fight.”

In the past, some Catholics have voiced concerns  about any entity other than the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix operating the former church.

Former Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox told the council that “trust needs to be there” and suggested the item be continued for two weeks while city staff prepares a document that would outline the Diocese as having control of the building along with written guidelines for the Braun Sacred Heart Center.

“You have to have something on paper for people to believe it,” she said.

The deal that was scheduled for a Wednesday vote called for the Diocese to lease three acres which included the building the building for 50 years at a rental rate of $10 per year, plus taxes. The Diocese would also cover all rehabilitation and maintenance costs.

Under the proposal, the building would only be used as a consecrated Catholic Church, shrine or other sacred building, according to the laws of the Roman Catholic Church.

The agreement also called for Sacred Heart Parish and the Diocese of Phoenix to participate in a Historic Golden Gate neighborhood group consisting of the Braun Sacred Heart Center and Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) to ‘foster communication and cooperation’ to 'ensure all development on the site allows the highest and best use'.

Councilmembers Michael Nowakowksi, Laura Pastor and Kate Gallego pledged to meet with the Braun Sacred Heart Center, the Phoenix Diocese and CPLC in hopes of securing a detailed, written agreement that the council could vote on June 6.

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