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Church and state: St. Gabe’s Chapel not a public project

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | St. Gabriel’s Chapel.
JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO St. Gabriel’s Chapel.

The discussion about trying to save St. Gabriel’s Chapel from the wrecking ball may have started at Town Board meetings. But the effort is emphatically not town-sponsored. Nor does the board have any plans to use the building if it’s preserved and moved.

That’s the message board members emphasized at Tuesday’s work session after Kathryn O’Hagan-Klenawicus and David Klenawicus began fund-raising efforts asking that checks be made out to “the Town of Shelter Island” to cover the cost of moving the chapel to land Mr. Klenawicus owns on Ginny Drive.

The couple had suggested that if the building could be saved, it could be leased to the town for $1 and provide space for community activities.

Board members agreed they don’t oppose moving the building, but don’t endorse any plan that would require it to fund activities there.

At issue is the 78-year old chapel that Richard Hogan, who bought the 25-acre St. Gabriel’s property from the Passionists religious order for $15 million last year, has said he will demolish if it’s not moved. Mr. Hogan is developing a luxury community on the site.

Costs to move the chapel are anticipated at about $65,000, plus another $20,000 to build a foundation, and about $10,000 more for miscellaneous expenses, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Board members said they’ve been hounded by those in opposition to moving the chapel to Ginny Drive and by others who question the use of public money now or in the future. Ginny Drive residents were present at the meeting and emphasized their strong opposition.

Ms. O’Hagan had suggested she might want to seek town money to help pay for liability insurance or other costs.

Now, instead of donors sending checks to the town, Ms. O’Hagan is trying to form a nonprofit organization that could take contributions and provide tax deductions to donors.

This past week, an item in the Our Lady of the Isle Church’s bulletin encouraged people to contribute money and listed possible uses for the building. Mr. Dougherty suggested that Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, might consider offering space at the church cemetery for the building, rather than putting it on private property on a residential street.

Father DeSanctis told the Reporter Tuesday that the parish can use its tax exempt status only for parish endeavors. He also noted that undeveloped land at the cemetery is reserved for grave sites. He doubted the Diocese of Rockville Centre would approve moving the chapel there.

“The cemetery is a place for prayer, reflection and silence,” he said.

Councilman Jim Colligan acknowledged getting the ball rolling when he initially heard the chapel might be demolished. While he has not had “a change of heart” about trying to save the structure, he said, hearing from those who objected to earlier suggestions prompted him to rethink his original ideas.