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Op-Ed: Oppose the St. Leonard’s Church Rectory Conversion

We are hoping for a big North End community turnout at City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 10:30 a.m. at room 801 to oppose the current plans for the condo development in the former St. Leonard’s Church Rectory, at 14 N Bennet St. The Zoning Appeals Board has scheduled a vote then on whether or not to approve this project, which violates multiple zoning laws.

The condo proposal from Epsilon Partners includes adding a new fifth floor, open balconies and a roof deck, which are inappropriate for this historic location and which has been rejected by both of our elected neighborhood groups, North End Waterfront Council and North End Waterfront Residents Association. Does the Zoning Appeals Board care what the citizens think? This will be a key test case to see if they only rubber stamp every development that comes along, regardless of its impact on the community.

We need to show that we care about the North End’s quality of life, by telling the Zoning Appeals board on Feb. 25 that this project is not appropriate for this block, which is designated as historically significant by the Massachusetts Historic Commission. In addition to the privacy, density, and historic preservation issues, there are safety questions with the current proposal, as it would eliminate the fire escapes. They have not done a structural analysis to add a new story and roof deck on an old brick building that is unique in the North End because it sits not on solid ground, but rather on top of a warren of underground passages and rooms that link the rectory to St. Leonard’s church.

There are no assurances to back up the developers’ claims that these will be high-end condos, whose owners will respect the privacy of the church and abutting neighbors.  The fact that there will be no elevator in the five-story proposed development leads many to believe these condos will end up as rentals, with little control over when and how deck and roof parties may disrupt the church’s sacred gatherings and the abutters’ privacy.

Two petitions have been circulated, signed by over 140 people opposing this project. Please add your own voice by coming in person to the hearing, or writing to the Zoning Appeals Board at: 

Board of Appeals
Boston Inspectional Services Department
1010 Massachusetts Ave., 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02118

Thank you!
Ellen Hume, Trustee, Columbus Court, 20 Tileston St. welcomes commentaries on community issues via email to or through our Submit a Post online form. Opinions are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of or other writers on this site. Responses to this commentary can be posted below in the comment section.

9 Replies to “Op-Ed: Oppose the St. Leonard’s Church Rectory Conversion

  1. But of course the Good Friars at St. Leonard’s-Sacred Heart Parish must be valiantly striving to raise funds from the sale of more North End real estate (after the CC Center on Prince and CC High School on North Bennett) in order to properly fix the Seamen’s Bethel building that became in 1880’s Sacred Heart Church, which is right on North Square and the Freedom Trail, an important economic lifeline for the neighborhood. Right?
    Sacred Heart is a heck of a lot more historic than your view. More than the old bathhouse too, for that matter – as church has most of its original art work and furnishings inside, and represents a community, not city-funded initiative, in other words the culture and memory of the immigrant community of over a century ago. So, if the friars pledge to use real estate sales to make necessary repairs on Sacred Heart, let ’em fix up the rectory to create apartment style units. Amen!

  2. I find it rather ironic that Ms Hume opposes all this construction when in fact she resides at one of the buildings that was once owned and operated by the Franciscans (Christopher Columbus)? Or her opposition to The Nazzaro Center being renovated?

    Is this really about the community or is it more about her place of residence and the inconvenience of construction on “her” street.

    I mean no disrespect to Ms Hume but if she is allowed to post Op Ed’s then please allow my post to not be censored. Thank you kindly.

    1. Dear Op Ed rebuttal and NorthEnd Native: We are respectful of this history and the feelings you are expressing. We cherish this neighborhood. Please do not punish us for what happened over 20 years ago. We need to hang together to keep the North End the special neighborhood that has nurtured so many families over the years. Our support for the St. Leonard’s congregation in no way implies that we don’t also want to support Sacred Heart, or that we are standing in the way of local condo developments within a reasonable footprint of the property. And please know that none of us opposes having the Nazzaro Center being renovated inside and improved as a Senior Center run by the North End Waterfront Health Center when the city leaves the building. We have always supported the new North End Community Center being built in a new location, as the Mayor has promised, to meet the needs of our neighborhood. We just think the North End deserves, at the same time, to enjoy what is left of its unique cultural quality, public places, and history wherever possible, for the good of everyone who lives here.

      1. We’re not talking about a done deal “20 years ago” – Sacred Heart closed for services last spring, in 2019, and there has been no recent updates about when the building will be brought up to current fire code standards and reopened for worship and other community celebrations. It affects a lot of people, not just a few on North Bennett Street who don’t want their view changed of the downtown skyline (which this all boils down to, as something much bigger, the CC center was built just a block away). Alcoholics Anonymous, a local early childhood play group, Saint John’s School, the Saint Leonard’s Choral Society, and many saints’ groups met in Sacred Heart. When you trot out the “historic charms” of the old bathhouse and rectory – both in the early 20th century utilitarian mold – please, the most historic thing on the site is the Polcari Playground, now 100% asphalt.
        Will look forward to community meetings to discuss future work on Sacred Heart. How long do I need to hold my breath?

      2. Sacred Heart was abandoned by the Archdiocese after the pedophile payments forced it to cut parishes. It stayed alive because of community support. The sale of the St. Leonard’s Rectory is more community support. It comes as a sacrifice, but as NorthEndNative says Sacret Heart is more significant to the community.

  3. “So, if the friars pledge to use real estate sales to make necessary repairs on Sacred Heart, let ’em fix up the rectory to create apartment style units. Amen!”

    What did they do with the millions they made from the sale of the CC Center and CCHS? They certainly didn’t use it to fix St. Leonard’s. That came from largely private donations.

  4. Dear NorthEnd Native,
    I agree that the Sacred Heart situation should be the subject of a neighborhood discussion. You can suggest presenting this as an agenda item at NEWRA or NEWNC meetings, which is what we did with the Nazzaro and Rectory issues. I also think an oped here about it, with specifics, would be helpful to that discussion. (I was referring to the high school conversion 20 years ago, not Sacred Heart.)

  5. I don’t begrudge (or want to punish) you for living in a place that was changed many years ago before you lived there but….. please please stop telling us about the north end charm and all that as you have lived here for but a minute. Ms. Hume, I’m not sure you realize how you come across – for me I see you as being disingenuous and not as “above board” as you try to show.

    I do find it odd that you are not as vocal on issues outside of north bennet st. Maybe you are and I missed it???

    I do applaud you for voicing your opinion and supporting issues….. so thank you for that.


  6. I will leave it to the rest of you to have the last word on this discussion, My own final comment is this: I am grateful for the broad community effort that is working to make this a great place to live, and all the wonderful neighbors I have met along the way.

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