Sept. 5, 2002 – The modest brick church that served Catholics on St. John for nearly 40 years is now a pile of planks and rubble.
It has taken almost three weeks to tear down Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Cruz Bay. It's expected to take well into next year to rebuild it.
Structural problems with the walls and a sagging roof led to the decision to do away with the old church building, according to the Rev. Neil Scantlebury, Mount Carmel's pastor. "So when you look at it, you take off the wings and you take off the roof, and after that, the walls would collapse," he said.
Mount Carmel, St. John's first Catholic church, was built in 1962, when the town of Cruz Bay was a modest cluster of seaside homes. Contractor Charles Roddy became a member of the congregation as a teenager in the 1970s when his uncle, for whom he was named, served the parish as its priest.
Back then, Roddy helped build the two extension wings of the church. Today, he's on the job again, assisting with the demolition and the construction to come of a new two-story church building.
Before the demolition began, church officials paid a visit to the V.I. Office of Historic Preservation, where they were asked to document the old building and provide a brief history. As church structures go, Roddy said, Mount Carmel was a pretty simple affair. "The original building was more Spanish architecture and beams with a slab on top of that, terra cotta walls," he said.
Once workers started taking up the roof, the walls began to weaken as predicted. Roddy said that made the work for him and his three-man crew pretty easy. Much of the demolition work was done by hand, he said, because of the dense placement of buildings in Cruz Bay and the narrow, hairpin-curve street that wraps around the corner where the church stands, across from Wharfside Village Shopping Center.
Among the artifacts being spared the sledge hammer are the original marble cornerstone and a tile mosaic bearing the likeness of the Lady of Mount Carmel. The wrought-iron doors that stood at the entrance also will be kept for future use, the contractor said, although he didn't know where they would be used.
Scantlebury said it will cost about $330,000 to build the new church, and most of the money already has been collected through years of fund raising. Plans for the new church sanctuary include a second-floor choir loft and balcony seating. "We hope to have everything accomplished by next year," Father Neil said. That's a significant target: Mount Carmel parishioners will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the church's dedication next July.
Until the new church is ready for occupancy, services are being held in the Mount Carmel parish hall, itself a structure that was torn down and rebuilt about a year ago.
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