GoLocalProv | Episcopal Church Chided RI Leaders on Homeless

Tuesday, January 31, 2023


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St. John’s Cathedral on North Main Street, vacant for 11 years. PHOTO: GoLocal


One of the top clerics in the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island took state leaders to task for their failure to provide a solution to the homelessness crisis.


Earlier this month, Archdeacon Grace Swinski of the Diocese spoke in the Rotunda of the State House, just a few hundred yards from Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely office and the headquarters of the Diocese.

The Diocese owns approximately 70,000 thousand square feet of real estate in one of the most valuable areas in Rhode Island — the historic College Hill neighborhood— most of it has been vacant or underutilized for a decade.

“All of us today have come together as one voice, to gather and pray for our representatives and elected officials, to share a common bond knowing that all of us are created in the image of God and we should all be treated equally. We pray that throughout this legislative year the elected officials in this magnificent building and in all places, that they gather together to make decisions, [and] hear the cries and the voices of all the people they serve, the people…until recently sleeping in the front of this building because the lack of shelter in affordable housing in this state,” said Swinski in her State House remarks.

“I am sad to report that the number of unsheltered Rhode Islanders is rising. As we head into the colder months in the first two December, 590 people were unsheltered in Rhode Island. There is constant discussion about more shelters opening more money for affordable housing but when will all our brothers and sisters have a safe place to leave their belongings and sleep,” added Swinski.

While Swinski was speaking, tens of thousands of square feet of Diocese property sat vacant.


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St. John’s Cathedral on North Main. PHOTO: GoLocal

Diocese Hoarding Tens of Millions of Dollars in Underutilized Real Estate

For nearly a year, GoLocal has been asking the Diocese about the fate of the Cathedral of St. John on North Main Street right at the foot of the State House. The property has been abandoned for more than a decade.

“Bishop Knisely’s predecessor made the decision to close the cathedral for regular worship and disband its worshipping congregation about 11 years ago. Since Bishop Knisely took office, the diocese has invested heavily in consultants and met with many parties to develop a path forward for the cathedral building. Unfortunately, the limitations of the building and the site mean that many proposals that seemed to hold initial promise have proven to be impractical,” said Edward Biddle, the Chief Financial Information

“The cathedral building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the site is located within the College Hill Historic District, and the cemetery has significant historic value and has not yet been studied appropriately. While each of these designations makes the building and grounds invaluable to our community, they present challenges to many redevelopment and reuse proposals,” said Biddle.

In total, the Diocese owns five historic homes on Benefit Street, the Cathedral, Hallworth House, and other buildings and parking. 

But Biddle did not answer why over the past decade, the Diocese has not sought to market the property and then use the funds to serve the community.

“We continue to welcome conversations with any interested parties that would like to envision a future for this building with us,” he added.


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Hallworth House, former nursing home and rehab center, 23,000 square feet PHOTO: GoLocal


Hallworth House Could Be Redeveloped Into Apartments or Condos

Hallworth House is more than 23,000 square feet. The city values the property at nearly $4 million, but developers say it may be worth three to four times more.

GoLocal first reported in June of 2020 that Hallworth House, a 57-bed nursing home, was closing and that it “filed a plan to cease operations with the state’s Department of Health. The closure is anticipated to occur by the end of August.”

By December of 2021, under the arrangement with the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, which owns the building, 20 patient rooms were to be rented by the State and furnished and staffed under the supervision of the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Office of Health and Human Services.

GoLocal architectural critic said, “One possibility would be to abandon the site altogether, and sell their prized bucolic hillside to a developer. The bishop’s seat could be transferred to another church, say, Grace Church on Westminster Street, the diocese could rent office space downtown, and its graves could be relocated to Grace Cemetery or North Burial Ground. But it seems unlikely that the Episcopalians would really allow the destruction of their cathedral. Such symbolism would send a chilling message about a venerable denomination with deep roots here, and one which is often known for high standards of ecclesiastical design.”


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Read More:GoLocalProv | Episcopal Church Chided RI Leaders on Homeless

2023-01-31 12:05:23

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