November 21, 2009

St John the Baptist Church, Lowell, Massachusetts

St John the Baptist Church in Lowell, Massachusetts is one of several churches shuttered in recent years by the Archdiocese of Boston. The church and rectory were recently purchased by a developer, Brian McGowan, who is in the process of converting the rectory to apartments. He has plans drawn up to convert the church to condos or apartments as well. That would be a shame. The interior of the church is magnificent.

I met the owner / developer by chance a few weeks ago when Tom Short (Historic Mill Society) and I were driving to shoot the Appleton Mill.  Brian’s crew was working on the church rectory and a small side building so Tom and I stopped to check it out. After introductions and an explanation of my photography, Brian gave us a tour of the church.

All of the iconic elements of this Catholic church had been stripped away. Any stained glass that depicted biblical elements, the altar, all of the statues were removed by the Archdiocese. Additionally, the pews and chandeliers were removed and, I assume repurposed or recycled. Nonetheless, what remains is spectacular.

I was struck by the gigantic pipe organ that dominated the second balcony and the few remaining stained glass windows (secular in nature).

Brian invited me back to shoot the building. It took a few days of phone tag, but we finally connected.   I spent about 4 hours over a couple of early mornings shooting in the building, mostly the pipe organ.

I’ll be going back over the next couple weeks and will update the Blog and gallery.

Be sure to check out the full St John the Baptist Church gallery.

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  1. Great stuff! I am still in love with your mill shot but I didn’t realize that you had so much more great preservationist/architectural work to offer. Wow, looking forward to hearing and seeing what you shoot. 😀

  2. I agree, the church is magnificent and it would be an absolute shame if the structure were turned into apt./condos. Yesterday, my daughter and I, while driving by the church, noticed the “For Sale” banner gone and the church doors wide open. Our timing was right as we were able to meet with Brian McGowan, the developer. We briefly spoke, learning about the rectory being turned into apts. and the possibility of the church being turned into 30 unit apts/condos. I was very distraught to hear this sad news. As I walked through the church, a feeling of the once sacred place felt abandoned and lost, as if it were an old, long forgotten grave stone, still standing, but no longer noticed. Traces of it’s once grandeur are still present, recalling the icons, sparkling windows and chandeliers, now gone, made my heart ache for the time it was filled with faithful parishoners. My parents were married in that church as well as many other friends and relatives. To witness such a drastic change in a holy structure is much more than seeing a change of the times. To transform St John the Baptise Church, which was the center of the once French Canadian community, also fondly known as “Little Canada”, is tearing apart the past of the French Canadian culture that played a major part in making Lowell the historical city it is today. I wonder why the church was never protected and placed on the National Historic Registrar but have hope the holy building will not completely disappear.

  3. Gostaria de saber se esta igreja ainda existe. Se no, para qual igreja foram os registro de batismo.

  4. Hello I was wondering if the organ is still located in the church and if it was for sale? reply when you can. Thanks!
    Mark Pall
    organ enthusiest

  5. I hope the Pipe organ is still there. Also I guessing you know the story about St. Peter’s Church on 327 Gorham Street.