Exit from outdated All Saints Academy building places outreach efforts closer to Latino community
By Dan McWilliams
The Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga is cutting ties after more than nine decades with All Saints Academy, its nearby building that has fallen into disrepair after serving the parish as a school and later a meeting space since 1925.
The parish has purchased a new building at 2311 E. 23rd St. for its Hispanic Ministry, the primary user in recent years of All Saints Academy, and is leasing out the Academy building.
“We knew we couldn’t keep the building going indefinitely, as the cost to renovate and maintain it was prohibitive,” basilica rector Father David Carter said. “After going through two other project proposals, we finally have landed one with a developer seeking to remake the Academy into office space.”
That marks “a solution to relieve our parish of the costly burden to maintain All Saints Academy, the large building located one block east of our church at 310 E. Eighth St., while still retaining ownership of the property,” Father Carter wrote in a letter to parishioners.
“We trade in this maintenance burden for another big challenge of accommodating our large parish community without this large, flexible meeting space at All Saints Academy that we have enjoyed for decades.”
The All Saints Academy building was originally home to Notre Dame Academy, now Notre Dame High School, when it was a grade 1-12 school from 1925 to 1965. When the high school grades moved to the current NDHS site on Vermont Avenue in fall ’65, the remaining grades continued under the name Sts. Peter and Paul Elementary School.
In 1972, the African-American parish and school of St. Francis combined with Sts. Peter and Paul, and the school became known as All Saints Academy until its closure in 1985.
The building continued to serve the parish as a host to youth Search retreats and nonprofit activities.
“Most recently it has served as home to our very active Hispanic ministries and, at times, our RCIA and youth group,” Father Carter wrote in his letter. “However, the building has fallen into disrepair and become unsafe to inhabit, and we determined a few years ago that the cost to make it habitable reaches into the millions—far beyond the means of our budget to support. It also costs a significant amount in utilities to keep it open, at a time when we are operating on a large deficit.
“Selling the property is not allowed to us by the diocese. Even the cost of demolishing the building and rebuilding a smaller one on site or putting in a parking garage was investigated, but the cost would be exorbitant. Therefore, because of safety and liability concerns, we decided to lease the building out to a developer who can invest to bring the building back up to code and turn it into office space.”
A developer has signed the contract, a 31-year ground lease that the developer has the option to renew, and Bishop Richard F. Stika and diocesan attorneys have approved the transaction.
“Several developers have considered taking on the building to provide low-cost housing using grant money, but they have each had to walk away for lack of funding,” Father Carter wrote.
The developer leasing the building has a connection to All Saints Academy.
“The developer is actually a former student of Sts. Peter and Paul and Notre Dame High schools and has a nostalgic connection to the building,” Father Carter said. “We are grateful for his initiative in making something good come from this venerable old building.”
The basilica began transitioning out of All Saints Academy in late 2019, a decision hastened by the building’s heating system having become inoperable. The nonprofit groups the basilica was hosting there moved off site.
The parish’s Hispanic community has attempted in recent times “to purchase an annex building for their evangelical outreach activities,” Father Carter wrote. “They currently rent two smaller buildings privately for this outreach, but they have outgrown one of the buildings and are seeking to expand. You may not be aware that one of the reasons our Hispanic community has grown so much in numbers recently is because of the efforts of this off-campus ministry. They are spreading and living the Gospel message in our neighborhoods, just as we are all commissioned to do!”
With the loss of the Academy building, “we knew that we needed a new space for our Hispanic ministry,” Father Carter said. “We were able to pair up with one of our ministry outreaches associated with our parish (Casa de Oracion Santa Cruz) and were able to purchase a new building on 23rd Street a few miles from the parish that will be the new location for our parish’s Hispanic Ministry.
“It is a building located right in the neighborhoods where many of our Hispanic parishioners live. The purchase was approved by the Diocesan Finance Council on Dec. 13 and finalized right before Christmas, and the community was able to celebrate a vigil for the birth of the Savior in the new building.”
The 23rd Street building “could also serve as an overflow space for some of our parish ministry activities that have normally met at All Saints Academy,” Father Carter wrote in his letter.
The basilica’s remaining spaces of Varallo Parish Hall and its religious education building “will be taxed heavily,” Father Carter wrote. “It is imperative that we exercise the Christian virtues of patience and humility as we enter this new phase of unity in the life of the parish.”
The challenge is “where will our ministries go?” Father Carter wrote of the parish’s non-Hispanic ministries.
“We will now need to unify all our ministries on our main campus. We will sometimes be unable to accommodate worthwhile activities. Varallo Parish Hall, being our one large room in the parish, will regularly be used by multiple groups at once, with the separation of our portable partition walls.
“This arrangement will require consideration and tolerance between groups who share space. I am asking that our ministries look into moving some activities off-site, where possible, to allow for other groups to meet on campus. We should see this challenge as an opportunity to develop the virtue of humility, which can open up fruitful possibilities in our community that we have not yet imagined. Think of it like a full house with one bathroom. In any house with a large family, much sharing and sacrifices are required, but the benefits of having a large, faithful family are well worth it!”
The All Saints Academy parking will remain available to the basilica, Father Carter wrote.
“As part of the deal with the developer of All Saints Academy, because the building will be used for offices and not residences, we will be able to continue to use the parking lot on the evenings and weekends, when we truly need it most, during our Masses and other large-group activities. With downtown parking at such a premium now, we should all rejoice in this bonus!”
Father Carter was thankful for the help of several people in the acquisition of the 23rd Street building.
“I am grateful for Bishop Stika, [diocesan chief financial officer] Shannon Hepp, and [diocesan chancellor] Deacon Sean Smith, who helped out tremendously with the diocesan process for us to purchase the building and provide for the needs of our Hispanic ministry,” the basilica rector said. “I in particular would like to thank Deacon Hicks Armor, whose great expertise in the area of finance and real estate aided me so much. Without his true diaconal spirit of service and his attentiveness to all the details, I don’t think the building could have been purchased as quickly as it was.”