What's the public value in restoring historic SouthCoast religious buildings?

A short answer is that in most past cultures, the churches, synagogues and mosques were the most expressive edifices architecturally and most influential buildings in the community.

In New Bedford and across the SouthCoast, religious structures play a fundamental role in our community, because they define our local history and past cultures. However, with a shortage of both clergy and parishioners, decades of deferred maintenance has made them increasingly vulnerable to deterioration and loss.

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So is anyone ministering these historic holy properties?

The Robitaille Legacy Project is a 501c3 non-profit group, formed to support the restoration and preservation of long-standing religious architectural structures in and around New Bedford.

"Our mission is simple; to reverse a trend of neglect," said Ray Hanks of Mattapoisett, the man who initiated the project. "Somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 religious structures in the U.S. are on their way out, becoming an eyesore. We're trying to prevent the old, classic meetinghouses and shrines from going under the bulldozer."

Hanks said many of the older, established parishioners are passing away and that is leaving no funds to keep up with the maintenance.

"What's more, these historical places are likely to be the setting for important community events, and as centers for providing needed social services," Hanks said. "From Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, neighborhood watch gatherings, voting locations, soup kitchens and such, churches serve a great importance, year after year, and are truly worthy of our preservation efforts."

How does this organization get its funding?

"When we presented a gift of $3,000 to St. Anthony of Padua Church for their handicap accessibility project, the money was raised from our Italian dinner spread," Hanks said.

The next fundraising soiree, called "A Taste of Italy," welcomes attenders to eat in or take out, on May 21, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the East Freetown VFW, located at 89 Middleboro Road. There will be a cash bar and DJ. Tickets are available at the Unitarian Church at 71 8th Street, at St. Anthony's Credit Union, and will also be available at the door.

"Our old, historic religious buildings serve as a reminder of New Bedford's culture and interesting past," Hanks said. "The very act of seeing a historic religious building is a visual flashback of this area's cultural heritage, and we should never lose sight of that."

For more information call 508-789-7200 or email at gerbs1950@yahoo.com.

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