Nashua Telegraph, NH

High court to hear church sale case

By ALBERT McKEON, Telegraph Staff
[email protected]

Published: Saturday, Apr. 2, 2005

Preservationists and former parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Church in
Nashua have taken one last stand against the building's sale.

Opponents of the transaction between the Roman Catholic Diocese of
Manchester and a proxy for the Armenian Orthodox Church have appealed to the
state Supreme Court. Judges at the superior and probate court levels have
rejected the dissenters' arguments.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate
of Jerusalem, has approved a Nashua-area developer's purchase of the church
and his stated intent to use the building for an Armenian Orthodox parish.

Developer Vatche Manoukian received Manoogian's blessing, attorney Gerald
Prunier said. Manoukian has a $1 million purchase-and-sale agreement with
the Manchester diocese and intends to donate the St. Francis Xavier property
to his faith, according to Prunier, who represents Manoukian.

But the transaction is on hold. Dissenters who first fought the diocese over
St. Francis Xavier's closing in 2003 and then over the proposed sale are
taking one last legal action.

`They're unanimous; they don't want to give up,' attorney Randall Wilbert
said of his group of clients. The group consists mostly of former
parishioners of the French Hill neighborhood parish, and a few who admire
the building's architectural value.

`The struggle ahead is difficult,' Wilbert said. `It's certainly the last
hurrah. They can accept that, but they want to try everything.'

Wilbert filed the appeal two weeks ago. He has asked the state's high court
to interpret a statutory trust that governs stewardship of the church.

The trust stipulates that Bishop John McCormack, leader of the Manchester
diocese, must act in the interest of former parishioners and forward the
proceeds from a sale to their new parish. When St. Francis Xavier closed, it
technically merged with St. Louis de Gonzague Church, and many parishioners
moved there.

In dismissing the plaintiff's suit, a Hillsborough County Superior Court
judge said he could not speculate whether McCormack would use the proceeds
for any other purpose, and said the diocese is, to date, following the
conditions of the trust.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or [email protected]