Longtime church now home to Islamic center

| July 2, 2014 | 16 Comments
From left, Greg Cosimini talks with Ahmed Diriye inside the former St. John church building in St. Paul June 27. A Muslim group bought the building, which is now called the Darul-Uloom Islamic Center, and had an open house to welcome people in the neighborhood, including former St. John parishioners such as Cosimini.  Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Greg Cosimini talks with Ahmed Diriye inside the former St. John church building in St. Paul June 27. A Muslim group bought the building, which is now called the Darul-Uloom Islamic Center, and had an open house to welcome people in the neighborhood, including former St. John parishioners such as Cosimini. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Although the campus that for 92 years housed the former St. John parish on the east side of St. Paul no longer serves the area’s Catholics, it will be a hub for neighbors to gather for worship once again.

The church is now a mosque for the Islamic community — Darul-Uloom Islamic Center, which hosted an open house June 27.

Longtime St. John parishioner Greg Cosimini attended to bid farewell to his former church and to welcome the new occupants to 977 E. Fifth St.

“Having this building empty was about the worst thing,” said Cosimini, who lives a few blocks away. “For the neighborhood, empty property is a bad thing to have. It just causes trouble, so I’m glad somebody moved in.”

Cosimini now attends St. Mary in downtown St. Paul because “in a lot of ways, it looks like a small version” of St. John.

Father Michael Byron is pastor of St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul, the receiving parish of St. John. He said there is a great opportunity to partner with Darul-Uloom.

“A lot of Muslims live in the area, and that’s why they’re here,” Father Byron said. “The neighborhood is in great flux. There are a lot of social issues of common concern that we could seek to cooperate on.”

Feisal Elmi, a spokesman with Darul-Uloom (Arabic for “house of knowledge”), said the group plans to open a food shelf in the basement. Next door to the church, the former St. John rectory will house the community’s imam — a religious leader — and eventually new immigrants on a temporary basis. The former school, which closed in the 1970s, will be used as a charter school and community center, hosting job fairs and youth programs.

Decommissioning a church

St. John celebrated its last Mass on June 30, 2013. Since then, the altars, statues, communion rail and other sacred objects were removed and donated to parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“Father Byron did a very good job of finding homes for almost all of the sacred items here,” Cosimini said. “And so we know where most of them went. That was a real comfort for everybody.” Cosimini has chronicled the timeline of St. John’s at http://www.lostchurchesofstpaul.com.

Items that couldn’t be reused were disposed of appropriately. Before Darul-Uloom moved in, the remaining Christian images had to be covered or removed, such as the large stone cross that once sat atop St. John’s exterior peak.

According to Susan Mulheron, chancellor for canonical affairs for the archdiocese, to relegate the space for secular use, Archbishop John Nienstedt issued a written decree. There is no rite to remove the dedication that made the space sacred initially, but a formerly sacred space can never be used for purposes that are “sordid,” that is, blatantly offensive to Christian sensibilities. The possibility of sordid use is a major consideration when approval is given to sell a former church.

St. John merged with St. Pascal Baylon as part of the archdiocese’s strategic planning in 2010. Father George Welzbacher served as St. John’s pastor for seven years and retired after it closed. St. Pascal Baylon is about three miles from the former St. John parish. Father Byron said one of the reasons for the merge was the number of churches on the east side — 28 in a five-mile radius.

Money from the sale, which was finalized June 20, will go to St. Pascal Baylon, helping ease some of the parish’s debt, Father Byron said.

Father Byron and Cosimini shared the sentiment that the building will be preserved as a place for worship.

“I think like most religions, the vast majority of the people just want to live their life and worship in whatever way,” Cosimini said. “So, I think it should be a good influence on the neighborhood.”

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  • dongoran

    terrible!

    • CatholicGal123

      What is “terrible!”? Whatever God you believe in, we come from the same one. They aren’t hurting anyone. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Speak the truth

    The confessionals were found in the dumpster. I suspect the back altar and two side altars ended up there as well. The large stone cross that sat atop the church for 91 years was broken and thrown into the dumpster. Several statues are at Saint Pascals and the rest were given away for personal use by the pastor of Saint Pascals. None were offered to the parishioners of Saint Johns. No one knows what happened to the stained glass windows that were removed. Donated is used quite loosely here. Wake up folks. If you have no debt and are a small parish your day are numbered.

    • Eastsider

      Doesn’t St. Pacsal Baylon have somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million in debt? Yes, I suppose it does make it easier to close the church with no debt.

    • archangel

      I know at least one confessional wasn’t found in the dumpster. We are very appreciative of the confessional that we received from St. John’s at Sts. Peter & Paul.

  • guy in the pew

    “According to Susan Mulheron, chancellor for canonical affairs for the archdiocese, to relegate the space for secular use, Archbishop John Nienstedt issued a written decree. There is no rite to remove the dedication that made the space sacred initially, but a formerly sacred space can never be used for purposes that are “sordid,” that is, blatantly offensive to Christian sensibilities. The possibility of sordid use is a major consideration when approval is given to sell a former church.”

    With all due respect, this statement does not make sense. While we must strive to love all, if the new owners are not using the space for worshiping and adoring Our Lord who gave His all for us, how can this not be offensive to Him? Today in the LOTH’s morning prayer, it mentioned the light (antiphon: O Lord, in your light we see light itself), but other ways are not the way of the light. I don’t understand. Kyrie eleison.

    • CatholicGal123

      With all due respect, “our Lord” is everyone’s Lord. He goes by many names but He is the same Lord. Try to practice what you preach.

      • Sue

        Sorry, sweetie, but the god Muslims worship is NOT the Trinitarian God Christians worship. You should be aware that Muslims are gravely offended if you use the term “Father” in reference to God. Their god, Allah, is not a god of love. He’s a god of vengeance & fear. No, Catholicism has nothing in common with Islam & the sooner the East Siders wake up to that fact, the better off they’ll be.

    • ssoldie

      Does much make sense in the ‘new’ catholic church for the last 50 years? “by their fruits you will know them’ so sad that the hate for the S.S.P.X. is so strong in this ‘new’ catholic church.

  • blesscal

    This is so unbelievably sad. I know as Christians we are said to love one another but it certainly doesn’t make me happy that Muslims will now be “worshipping” in a sacred place that was used to glorify our Lord. I will pray for them but I will say that an article such as this in our Catholic newspaper and comments such as that from Father Byron and Cosimini seem to be what is wrong with what our Catholic church is becoming. No, we aren’t to be angry and hateful towards others but we certainly should not be “accepting”, much less happy, that those who don’t believe in our Lord Jesus Christ have found a new place to worship. I believe we need to wake up and realize that they want to destroy Christianity and as we are so worried about being accommodating to other forms of worship, they don’t seek accommodation with Christianity, they seek to usurp it. That in itself is quite distressing.

    • CatholicGal123

      He is not “our Lord.” He is THE Lord. Everyone’s Lord. I pray that you find love in your heart and share it with ALL people, regardless of their faith.

      • guy in the pew

        CatholicGal-

        You are quick to judge all others as though they are without love….but for as much as this may make yourself feel good about your comments here, tell me..

        if the Quran teaches that the Holy Trinity is blasphamy (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), how can that possibly be the same God? Why would Jesus tell us one thing, and Mohammad (who was said to me a messenger) say that’s not true? Tell me how this can be? Jesus reminds us that a house divided cannot stand.

        The Quran sees Jesus as a prophet, but not the Savior who was the Word who gave his all for the love of us all. Yet, by definition, the Quran does not call Jesus THE Lord. Far from it. But we call Him ‘Lord’. Pray for me, for I am a sinner, but my beliefs here are not that of hate for non-Catholics and you really should not be so judgemental. Christ is the Light of the World.

      • ssoldie

        for those who reject him, he is not their Lord

  • TobiasRaphael1

    Since the Archbishop is responsible for every soul in his archdiocese… Catholic and non-Catholic, I expect that he will make it his top priority to work to evangelize these followers of Mohammed into the Catholic Faith. After all, this is his calling as a Bishop… to go forth and preach the Gospel to every human creature, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I pray that the Archbishop will be the Shepard of his flock and do this. If the Archbishop is unwilling to do this, his duty… for the love of Our Lord especially, and at least out of common decency, he should humbly step down so that someone else can fulfill this command of Our Savior.

  • Former St John Parishoner

    The people who donated their hard earned money to build a such a beautiful church must be turning in their graves.

    • ssoldie

      And I imagine many many of them were pre Vatican II , who went daily for many years and prayed the Traditional Latin Mass, and donated from their meager amounts to build this magnificent Catholic Church to God,only to have it sold and desecrated.