By MADDY VITALE
One of Sea Isle’s most historic treasures is receiving help from the guardians of local history.
Sea Isle City’s Historical Society and Museum donated a check for $5,000 for mold remediation Thursday as a prelude to the renovation of the old St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
The 137-year-old church at 44th Street and Landis Avenue will once again be the gem of the city, longtime members dedicated to saving the piece of history said.
Mike Boyle, a trustee of the group, Save Our Historic St. Joseph’s Church, who, along with other members, fought to prevent the demolition of the church.
He explained what the church means to him and so many who have been members for years.
“It is not only everything to us, but to the community. Everyone benefits,” Boyle said. “Why anyone would want to tear it down is beyond me.”
A new exhibit dedicated to artifacts from the church are prominently displayed at the museum, located at 4800 Central Ave.
During the check presentation, Abby Powell, president of the museum, said they were happy to donate to such a worthy cause to help preserve a vital piece of the city’s history.
“I look at St. Joseph’s Church as a treasure,” she said, adding that when viewing old photos of Sea Isle she looks for the steeple as a landmark.
Gary Kriss, treasurer for the museum, noted that because of COVID-19 pandemic, and the cancellation of events, there was extra money that they all agreed at the museum should go to helping the church.
“This has always been an important cause in our hearts,” Kriss said.
The historic St. Joseph Catholic Church dates to 1884, just two years after the founding of Sea Isle City.
For more than two years, members of the Save Our Historic St. Joseph’s Church group fought to reopen the sanctuary and revive it as a place for weddings, funerals and baptisms.
Preservationists were locked in an intense dispute with the church’s former pastor, Father Joseph Perreault, who retired in 2020, over the future of the old sanctuary.
Fearing that the church would be demolished, the preservationists launched a fundraising and social media campaign to rally community support, including the Save Our Historic St. Joseph’s Church lawn signs at homes and businesses throughout town.
Mike McHale, a trustee of the group and longtime church member, said the hope is to one day give tours of the church and host events there.
McHale, as well as other members in attendance during Thursday’s check presentation ceremony, credited the new pastor, Father Perry Cherubini, for supporting them in their efforts to save the building.
“We want to thank Father Perry for letting us in the church for mold remediation,” McHale said. “Once we get the church back to its former beauty, we hope to have concerts in there and other events,” he said.
McHale reflected on the countless sacraments, weddings and other special occasions that took place at that building.
Referring to its religious, historic and architectural significance, McHale said the church is much more than a building.
He noted that the work to complete the mold remediation would not be possible without the generous donations of local businesses and others who joined together in a communitywide effort to help pay for the cleanup project inside the building.
The Historical Museum’s $5,000 helped immensely, McHale emphasized.
After the mold remediation is completed, there are plans to refurbish the building with fresh paint, new windows, gutters, sheetrock panels, light sconces and possibly a new heating system.
Tom Henry, a parishioner since 1945, reiterated what so many other church members said.
The church means so much to so many in the community.
“Unless you have been here a while, you just can’t understand the value of the church,” Henry said.
Ron Kovatis, also a church member summed up the sentiment.
He said while the building is an important part of Sea Isle’s history, it is also something more.
“That church is not only history — it is living history,” Kovatis said. “It should be preserved.”