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Warren Catholics find former farm co-op to convert

100-year-old church building too small, too run-down to renovate, pastor says

Published: December 4, 2017   
Brenda Clark
Having searched for property to replace the current church for many years, St. Luke parish members have taken ownership of the Bradley County Co-op property in Warren. The retail building on the left could become the sanctuary and the fellowship hall. The building on the right could be used as classrooms, Father Eddie D’Almeida said.

WARREN — St. Luke Church in Warren has purchased a former farmers co-op and will transform it into its new church campus.

Pastor Father Eddie D’Almeida said the parish members have been working toward a new church for a long while.

“I would guess, for around 20 years, the church has been setting money aside, occasionally having second collections, to save money for a new church. I’ve been pastor of the church for three years. I reside in El Dorado, so Holy Redeemer has St. Luke’s in Warren as its mission. For the past year, different families and groups have had food sales after Mass to even more increase the collections they are saving. In Warren, after Mass they will set up a table and sell tacos and all kinds of different foods.”

The Spanish-speaking Catholic community includes about 300 parishioners. It is the only Catholic church in Bradley County.

“The church itself is about a hundred years old. I think it has the original roof. The walls are cracking. The trees, the roots are coming up underneath the walls. It is in shambles and it is not really worth fixing.” Father Eddie D’Almeida, pastor of St. Luke Church in Warren

Father D’Almeida said the parish has been looking for more than a year to find a suitable property because the current church is in poor condition and too small for their needs.

“We’ve been looking for property for well over a year, maybe two years and even beyond, even before I arrived, they’ve been searching for different properties, because the church itself is about a hundred years old,” he said. “I think it has the original roof. The walls are cracking. The trees, the roots are coming up underneath the walls. It is in shambles and it is not really worth fixing. Beyond that, the church is full on Sundays, so much so that we have people standing outside. We have people sitting in the sacristy. We have a need for a larger church. We definitely have a need for more classrooms, and for just a better facility. It’s been in the plans for many years, even decades I would say that the people have known that they really need to do this.”

Jim Driedric, diocesan property services manager, said the diocesan building commission approved purchase of the seven-and-half acre property and the sale was complete Nov. 15. The $200,000 purchase included a warehouse, co-op store and
mechanics shop.

“The diesel tanks will be removed and that is the next step,” Driedric said. “We need to get an architect on board (for the renovation).”

Driedric said renovating a co-op complex into a church and parish hall isn’t ideal, but he said, “It is very limited what is available in Warren.”

Father D’Almeida said he is looking forward to the renovation beginning.

“The property has a large building that was an old tire shop, with maybe three or four stalls for cars,” he said. “They had a tire shop at the entrance and you go further in and they had a gas station so they had pumps. We’ll be getting rid of the pumps. They had a storefront where they would sell all kinds of items. In the back they had a huge storage area that we could use as a big parish hall. So we can have classrooms, a parish hall and convert the tire shop into a church.”

Fundraising is the main priority for the parish now. Church members donated items, which will be raffled off at the parish’s annual celebration for the feast of the Lady of Guadalupe Saturday, Dec. 9.

The feast is a large event, Father D’Almeida said, so it has to be held 15 miles away.

“It is so big that we have to have it in Hermitage at the community center,” he said. “We rent that building out, have the Mass there, have a dinner and have a party. We are going to have a procession starting at 10 in the morning, Mass at 11, and following we are going to have food and dancing. We are going to have a huge group of people to come from Mexico.”

The professional dancers from Mexico include children and adolescents, he added. The community center is located on U.S. Highway 63S in Hermitage.

“God willing,” the feast will eventually be held at the new church in Warren instead of in Hermitage, the pastor said. “The farm co-op, the huge storage they have in the back, is plenty big enough to have Masses for a thousand people or more. It isn’t really, I think, that difficult to convert it into a parish hall.”

“All of this will take time and effort because we will probably have to have at least a construction company and probably an architect as well, to design classrooms and figure out how we are going to convert these buildings into church facilities. It is going to be a lengthy process. The diocese is helping us, which is a great boon,” the pastor said.

The current church property includes a church that seats 175 people and a house that is used as a parish hall and religious education classes next door. Driedric said the new property is in a good location only a mile away from the current church.

Malea Hargett contributed to this article.

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