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Scars Remain, But Holy Family Looking to Work With Neighbors on Expansion

The relationship between Holy Family Catholic and St. Louis Park's Sorenson Neighborhood has had its ups and downs.

Anne Bradley didn’t really want to sell her St. Louis Park home of 22 years, but three years ago, she didn’t have many better options.

The mother of four sons was taking on water, and Father Thomas Dufner, the priest at nearby , was offering a good price.

Dufner wanted the property as part of an for , the church’s pre-K through eighth-grade school he helped reopen in 2001 after a 10-year closure. The plan calls for the demolition of four homes—including Bradley’s old residence—to make room for green space and, eventually, a new multi-purpose room.

But when Bradley learned earlier this year that Dufner would be leaving for another church on July 1, she became worried—and immediately wanted to buy back her home.

“They’re tearing our house down,” she said, “(and) they’re not going to build that gym. There’s no way in hell.”

Dufner did not return several requests for comment on this story, but Sarah Mealey, a congregant who has been working as a neighborhood liaison on the project, said Bradley’s claim isn’t true.

“There is no change in plans,” Mealey said regarding Dufner’s departure. “(There was) never any discussion about selling (the house) back.”

Still, Bradley’s frustration underscores a history of tenuous relationships between the church and residents. When Dufner first started buying homes in the area about seven years ago, some residents fought back, according to a City Pages report. One couple even printed out a sign that read, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house," and hung it from their garage, directly across from the church office.

Those relationships have improved over time, according to those involved. Mealey was brought on board to foster more communication with the Sorenson Neighborhood, and councilwoman Susan Sanger—along with several residents—have praised Mealey’s work.

“Recently, they’ve been good neighbors,” said Sanger, who represents the area. “Sarah has been instrumental in turning around the process.”

Sorenson Neighborhood residents Jim Staib and Valerie Bartl have worked on a neighborhood advocacy group that has met with Mealey and other church leaders as the project has progressed. They said they’ve noticed a change in attitude.

“It’s been a very open information flow. The environment has been a lot less hostile then it was,” Staib said. “They showed they’re committed to the neighborhood.”

Added Bartl: “It’s shifted completely.”

Staib and Bartl said that doesn’t necessarily mean they love the project, as it means the loss of four nearby homes. But they both said they can tolerate it as long as they’re kept in the loop.

Staib added that he’s glad to see the church approach the project in two phases—the first being the demolition of the four homes and creation of green space, the second the construction of the new multi-purpose room. He said this means that if the church simply doesn’t raise enough funds for Phase 2, at least the neighborhood will have some new green space—space residents have been told they’ll be able to use.

“I think residents would be fine with that,” Staib said.

Of course, Holy Family intends to get both phases done. The first phase should be complete by the end of July. The second phase is a bit more uncertain.

“The timetable is dependent on getting a capital campaign up and running,” Mealey said.

As for Bradley, who now lives in Burnsville, the whole project is bittersweet. 

“It still feels like our house,” she said. “It breaks my heart.

Sharon June 25, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Now that Dufner is gone maybe Holy Family can get its good reputation back as well as local parishioners. It used to be success of a Catholic church meant more than how much money it made. Also the Catholic church should be working to help the community it is in not take from it! Look at the Basilica of St Mary's if you want an example!!
Jane Flannigan June 26, 2012 at 12:26 AM
What ever happened to the city's "Move Up Housing" initiative?? It was only a few years ago when a task force was looking at every nook and cranny piece of land (including Browndale Neighborhood's park) to build houses on to attract more families to St. Louis Park. Now it's ok to tear down four perfectly good houses for expansion of a nonprofit, non-tax paying entity?? This is confusing.
Daniel June 26, 2012 at 10:25 PM
The people who got premium prices for their homes a few years ago should be grateful. They would most likely never see those prices again in their lifetime. I just wish I could get a church to buy my house. I couldn't care less what they did with it once their check cleared.
M. Finn July 10, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Fact: Sarah Mealey's loyalty is to Holy Family Church. She has done little for the neighborhood for which she claims to advocate.

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