Battle for Holy Rosary Church’s survival stretches from Tacoma to the Vatican

Jul 12, 2023, 10:45 AM

Holy Rosary Tacoma church...

A community group is taking their battle to save Tacoma's Holy Rosary Church to the Vatican. (Courtesy Save Tacoma's Landmark Church)

(Courtesy Save Tacoma's Landmark Church)

Four years into a struggle to save a beloved Tacoma church, the community group organized to secure its preservation is taking their battle to the Vatican.

The group, Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church, will hold a public meeting Wednesday to provide updates on their efforts and preview what comes next.

Holy Rosary is a Catholic church west of Interstate 5 in Tacoma. It’s a highly-visible landmark with a very tall and distinctive steeple that stretches more than 200 feet into the sky.

As reported by KIRO Newsradio in 2019, the Seattle Archdiocese, owner of the church and the land it sits on, issued a decree to demolish the 1920 structure. The building was in need of repairs, but debate continues about how serious the issues are and how expensive it would be to address them.

A group of parishioners and other community members formed Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church and appealed the decree. COVID-19 got in the way, and the process slowed down, but in 2020 the Archdiocese rejected the group’s appeal and said the parish was unviable.

Worship services, which because of the damage to the church, had been taking place elsewhere in the complex of buildings at Holy Rosary, were moved to another parish. Last month, as reported by The News Tribune, the Archdiocese took steps toward selling the property. Then, the Archdiocese rejected another appeal.

Jon Carp, a Holy Rosary parishioner and a member of Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church, says money will be a significant issue going forward.

“The Archbishop has denied our appeal (and) we have appealed to Rome,” Carp told KIRO Newsradio. “And it is now mainly a question of money.”

His group is hoping to secure that money in order to purchase Holy Rosary, Carp says, mentioning some funds already raised and significant pledges in hand.

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“We’re going to be there discussing fundraising ideas (and) explaining our strategy for saving the church,” Carp said about the meeting. “And we’re going to have ways that people can get involved.”

The appeal process which Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church is following is part of Vatican Canonical Law, Carp said, with the appeal formally filed with an entity called the Dicastery for the Clergy at the Vatican. Carp says his group has hired an attorney there to represent them.

“He will represent us in front of the Dicastery in the matter of this appeal,” Carp said. “If we fail there, we can then appeal to what’s called the Apostolic Signatura, which is like the Supreme Court of the Catholic Church. And much like our Supreme Court, they can choose whether or not they want to hear your case.”

If the Apostolic Signatura declines to hear the appeal, what happens?

“Beyond that, of course, there’s the pope,” Carp said. “But you know that your chances of getting the Pope’s attention aren’t great.”

Carp says that no matter what ultimately happens at the Vatican, at the Seattle Archdiocese, or in the Tacoma community where the church currently stands, Holy Rosary’s future is probably going to take a few years to untangle.

“There are a lot of ways that this can be dragged out,” Carp said, referencing demolition permits required as well as various potential landmark designations to seek. “And we’re going to use all of them.”

A meeting of Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church is taking place Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Christ’s Episcopal Church on 310 North K Street in Tacoma.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross & Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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Battle for Holy Rosary Church’s survival stretches from Tacoma to the Vatican