Foundation needs money to buy church

NASHUA – A foundation hoping to restore the religious function of St. Francis Xavier Church has moved into a second stage of fund-raising, with its president “guardedly optimistic” the group will meet its goals.

The St. Francis Xavier Church Foundation will now solicit donations from corporations and various organizations after seeking money from individuals the past few months, said foundation President Randall Wilbert.

“We met our target, and we’re set to go to phase two,” Wilbert said. “We hope that we will be successful.”

Wilbert would not specify how much the foundation has raised to date, but he said the group is not halfway to its overall target. When the foundation started its fund-raising drive in November, foundation trustees said they wanted to collect at least $500,000.

Under that initial stage, the foundation mailed 1,100 fliers, asking former parishioners and others in the state to contribute. The group ultimately wants to negotiate with the diocese, which closed the church last March, and buy the building.

Foundation trustees disagree with the sentiment of some in the community that the building could serve solely as a secular institution – an arts center, theater or some form of business. Rather, trustees believe the century-old French Hill church deserves an extended future consisting of worship and communal events.

The diocese closed St. Francis Xavier – along with two other inner-city parishes, St. Casimir and St. Stanislaus – citing shrinking coffers and the mounting clergy shortage in the Catholic Church. No decision has been made on the building’s status, diocesan officials said Friday.

A City Hall committee is also examining the possible future use of the building and hopes to make a recommendation by June 30, Mayor Bernie Streeter recently told the Rev. Richard Dion, pastor of St. Louis de Gonzague Church, which merged with St. Francis Xavier.

Wilbert said the St. Francis Xavier Foundation could meet its goals by soliciting business and organizations in New Hampshire and nationwide.

“Money’s tight, but we’ve seen some positive feedback,” he said. “People are willing to help.”

The foundation does have pledges still unfulfilled, Wilbert said. He did not specify how many pledges remain unanswered, but he said people and companies have made promises contingent on various fiscal outcomes.

A fund-raising drive such as this competes with many factors, including a rebounding economy, Wilbert said. The foundation should have a better sense of the fund-raising’s success in 90 days, he said.

“We’ll now hit businesses and foundations,” he said.

“We think we’re going to be able to meet our goals with them. Communications have been positive, and we have an optimistic staff.”

Meanwhile, the city committee wants additional funds from the Community Development Block Grant program to pay for its study.

The Board of Aldermen’s Human Affairs Committee has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. to address the matter.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or