Published: Feb 14, 2009 12:30 AM
Modified: Feb 14, 2009 02:20 AM
For decades, the stone church along Alston Avenue was the preferred house of worship for black Catholics, a quaint, cozy little place with a devoted congregation.
Eventually, the congregation grew too large for its tiny home, and in 2007 the Holy Cross Catholic Church moved a couple of miles south on Alston Avenue to a new, larger facility.
And so the old church has sat, idle, its small parking lot used by the N.C. Central University law school next door. Soon, the site will house a new NCCU nursing school.
But the university wants to save more than just this small church's memory.
"We're not going to tear that church down," said Charlie Nelms, NCCU's chancellor. "We're going to move it, refurbish it, and use it for community events.
"It's really historic," he said. "It's part of a legacy that needs to be preserved."
The first part of the church was built in 1942; the sanctuary was completed in 1953, said James Elmore, Holy Cross Catholic's facility manager.
While Nelms is sure he wants to save the church, many of the details have yet to be worked out. It isn't clear yet, for example, where the church will be moved to, or in what way it will be specifically used.
The university is considering several possible relocation sites including at least one near the Shepard House along Fayetteville Street, Nelms said. NCCU has set aside $2 million for the move, said Zack Abegunrin, NCCU's facilities chief.
The firm planning the move is BBH Design, a Raleigh firm also under contract to design the new nursing facility to be built on the current church site. Douglas Hall, a BBH partner, said he expects to be able to move the church with little or no lasting damage, though the stone exterior, a wrapping of sorts, will be removed.
"The stone can be salvaged," he said. "Some of it is going to chip and break, but it's pretty durable material."
Traditional southern churches sit on foundations and can be lifted off them. This church will most likely be moved in that way, then placed back down on a new foundation at its new site, Hall said.
And the 7,900-square-foot church's relatively small size works to its advantage, added Andre Johnson, the BBH project manager coordinating the move.
"It's not very wide; it's a very small sanctuary space," Johnson said. "It's not much different from moving a pre-fab mobile home unit. You would never know the church ever moved."
Even the church's smallish steeple is cooperative; it will likely let the church navigate beneath power lines during the move.
Holy Cross Catholic, now operating from its new facility at 2438 S. Alston Ave., is the last traditionally black Catholic parish in the Raleigh diocese, which covers the eastern half of the state.
"We're glad they're going to preserve it and not tear it down, like we thought they might do," said Elmore, the church's facility manager.
Once the move is complete, Elmore expects to swing by from time to time and poke his head inside to see how the old building is being used. He has fond memories of crowded Sunday morning masses.
"It created a lot of closeness because of the size of it," he said.