By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia’s first Polish Catholic church, which was slated to be demolished, has won a reprieve from the city’s Historical Commission by receiving a historical designation.

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But the soaring Gothic structure is far from being saved.

John Wisniewski has an emotional connection with St. Laurentius Church, at Memphis and Berks Streets.

“My soul is in that church, along with that of my family’s,” he said today, choking back a tear.

He was baptized in the church and is now part of the “Save St. Laurentius” group, looking to preserve the now-empty building with 150-foot spires that rise over the Fishtown neighborhood.

In 2013, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia merged the St. Laurentius parish with nearby Holy Name of Jesus parish, and closed the St. Laurentius church to the public last year.

Now, Holy Name will make a “financial hardship” application to the Historical Commission and an ultimate appeal to demolish it.

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Michael Phillips, an attorney for Holy Name, says the parish, in the red by $78,000, does not have the financial resources to repair St. Laurentius.

“The criteria is totally different now,” he says.

Historical designation means any plans for demolition, which would cost about $1 million, would have to go through the Historical Commission.

Phillips says there was interest from five of the 70 developers they contacted to take over the building for one dollar, with no historical designation.  But with the historical designation, interest has been zero.  He says repairing the church would cost an estimated $4.7 million.

Wisniewski doesn’t buy those numbers.

“We have a different perspective on the economic and future reality of St. Laurentius than was presented by the archdiocese,” he said today.


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