The former Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 26-28 Eliot St. in South Natick has been shuttered since 2004, its closure a result of declining church attendance; the need for the Archdiocese of Boston to raise money to settle lawsuits from the clergy sexual abuse scandal; and the dwindling number of priests.
Now we hear that the 150-year old building, on the market for $450k, may get new life as a circus school. It seems the sanctuary with its soaring heights just might be the perfect space to train aspiring young trapeze artists on how to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.
Seeing the lights on in the church this past week, which illuminated the stained-glass windows, indicated possible new life.
Over the years, this building just across the town line from Wellesley has come close to achieving a resurrection. In 2015, the Natick Planning Board granted a permit for a buyer to build five condo units in the church. Although that didn’t come to pass, the rectory across the street was beautifully renovated into two units. But the 62,000 square-foot church has remained empty for the past 16 years.
That the decommissioned Sacred Heart church may be born again after having served the spiritual needs of parishioners for 114 years is good news for many. We’re neighbors of the church, and it breaks our heart every time we walk by and see the general disrepair of what was once a beautiful building. As my husband said when the religious statues in front of the church and the rectory across the street were removed in 2012, “You know the neighborhood is going downhill when Jesus and Mary move out.”
Abutter Christine Schell isn’t certain the idea will sail through, however, noting, “That property isn’t covered for a commercial entity. The space is zoned for housing units. So there’s a zoning issue.”
Neighbor Marco Kaltofen concurs. He says, “This building is currently zoned residential and the Natick Planning Board has given careful consideration to multiple plans that recognize the residential character of our neighborhood. Any new use would need to have appropriate limits on noise. density, parking, intrusive lighting; of course, it would also need to be lawful. I imagine that everyone wants a use that allows people to maintain the peaceful and tranquil use of their homes.”
Sacred Heart is just down the street from Elm Bank Reservation, where the Circus Smikus, the traveling youth circus, used to perform during the summer not long ago.
Other former churches have undergone similar conversions. In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in 2017 renovated one of that area’s long-closed Catholic churches and started welcoming trapeze artists, jugglers, contortionists, and other practitioners of circus arts.