Convent May Be Razed: The parish priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church says he had nothing to do with the three nuns being evicted from the adjacent convent, but now that they’re gone, he wants to raze it to expand the church.
Father Rafael Marin told me Wednesday, November 26, that the parish paid the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese an “undisclosed” amount for “an internal transfer” of the modest building next to the church. He refused to say what the parish paid, other than to say it was “fair market value, more or less,” that satisfied the archdiocese, which had ordered the nuns to leave last year so the rundown building could be sold, to help pay for settlement of suits by victims of priests’ abuse.
Fr. Rafael said he had no idea that the archdiocese had ordered the three Sisters of Bethany nuns to leave the small home, until a parishioner accused him of forcing them out. Until then, he said, “I had no clue. I didn’t know.”
But after the sisters left, the pastor said, he revised plans to remodel and expand the “overcrowded” Our Lady of Guadalupe, and asked the city to permit razing the convent so the church could enlarge the church beyond expansion plans that had already been submitted.
Fr. Rafael said the entire project would cost somewhere over $2 million, although bids have not been sought. When he arrived more than five years ago, he said, he began planning to enlarge the church, which seats about 300 people, but with up to 450 attending Spanish-language Masses, some parishioners “are kneeling on the sidewalk” outside the church for lack of seating.
He showed me the previous expansion plans he has submitted to the city, which he said showed the convent remaining as it was, the residence of the nuns. But their departure changed that, he said. “We always had in mind keeping the convent.”
“We’re almost ready to pull the permits,” he said. Asked how a parish of mostly modest-income working people could finance the project, the priest said the parish had funds and that a capital campaign would probably be launched. A title search shows that the convent is still owned by the archdiocese, according to local businessman and talk show host Ernie Salomon.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is community center for the predominantly Spanish-speaking Eastside and attracts people from around the city and also Goleta, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Oxnard, Ventura, and the Santa Ynez Valley, many of whom once lived in the city and return to worship at the church.
Fr. Rafael, clearly pained by the controversy that raged after word of the nuns’ ouster got around, with many unfairly blaming him, recalled that some years ago he had offered the nuns a chance to move to the rectory across Nopal Street, and that he would move elsewhere. He said they declined, preferring to remain in their familiar home. The rectory would have been much more comfortable for them, especially Sister Angela, who is partially disabled and uses a walker.
The convent was not offered on the open market, he said, because its proximity to the busy church makes it unappealing as a residence. It also needs extensive work, he added. The vacant lot on the far side of the church will become the parking lot exit.
There is “nothing secret” about the church’s expansion plans, he said, adding that parishioners are “excited” about the project and are donating for it, he said.