HUNTINGTON, Mass. (The Westfield News) A successful auction was held for the historic St. Thomas Church on the corner of East Main and Basket Streets Thursday at 1 p.m. on the church grounds. Prior to the auction, bidders were permitted to inspect the interior of the church. Entry was granted, however, only to those holding a $5,000 check for the auction, leaving former parishioners who wanted to take a last look on the outside.
There were six bidders in all, according to auctioneer Corey Fisher of Aaron Posnik & Co., Inc. auctioneers of West Springfield. Fisher said before the auction that it would be a confirmation sale. The Roman Catholic Diocese, who owned the church, had an amount that they wanted to achieve, which they didn’t make public.
“If it gets to the number or near it that they want, they’ll sell it. If not, they won’t,” Fisher said.
Before the auction began, he informed the bidders that the church held a deed restriction. No eventual usage inconsistent with the Roman Catholic Church would be permitted. He said this language will be in the deed.
What Fisher did not mention was the Local Historic District restriction put on the church by the town of Huntington in 2012, when they voted to amend the town’s bylaws to create a single property Local Historic District, consisting solely of the St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church, built in 1882.
Bidders however seemed to be aware of the historic restriction. Huntington residents Mimi Caban Ross and Mike Ross of the E.D.E.N. Project were fine with that restriction. Mimi Ross said they were interested in turning the church into a community and worship center for their project, which stands for community, worship space, creativity, innovation, education and prosperity.
Another bidder, David Baillargeon, president of Mom’s House had a similar vision. He said Mom’s House is a private, non-profit youth ministry focusing on protection and guidance for youth. He was interested in turning the church into a performing arts center, which would raise money for the organization’s youth programs.
Baillargeon, who owns Swinging Bridge Auctions next door on East Main Street and is a deacon in his Catholic church, said he previously offered the diocese a total of $175,000 for both St. Thomas Church and Mary’s Forest acreage in Russell. He said the diocese rejected the offer, and later sold the woods for $60,000.
The auction began with Fisher requesting an opening bid of $50,000. No one bid. He then asked for an offer, and bidding began at $30,000, eventually closing at $75,000. The successful bidder was Gerry Farelly of Westfield on behalf of the Farelly Family Realty Trust. Farelly declined to comment on his plans for the church.
St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church closed in February of 2010, after the membership of St. Thomas, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Russell and St. John Mission in Chester voted to merge parishes and worship in the Russell church, which was then renamed the Holy Family Parish. St. Thomas went on sale shortly afterwards, originally listed for $199,900.