Vineyard Central seeking help to save 113-year-old St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Norwood

Posted at 12:00 PM, Dec 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-21 05:47:44-05

CINCINNATI -- Vineyard Central needs $200,000 to repair its 113-year-old sanctuary, the former St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Norwood, and is asking the community for help to save the historic building.

Sitting at the corner of Carter and Mills avenues, St. Elizabeth is a landmark on the west side of Norwood. Vineyard Central bought the building, as well as the rectory and convent, which have since been sold, in 1995 for $150,000. The church has used the space, rented it out for private events and offered it up for community organizations and programs, including Woven Oak Initiatives, a Catholic faith-based group that tries to catalyze the common good, and flood relief efforts.

“It's not just about fixing the building,” Pastor Joshua Stoxen said. “What we're hoping is that it allows us to have more community in that space.”  

Water damage and crumbling plaster can be seen throughout the main sanctuary, which hasn't had heat since the boiler broke in 2013. The 70-person congregation meets in a conference room space in an administrative building in the back during the winter months.

Not wanting to see St. Elizabeth crumble further, Vineyard Central put the church on the market. Lots of people came through to see the space -- “Everyone had a story,” said Sandra Kelley, Vineyard Central trustee -- but no one made a viable offer.

So Vineyard Central administrators looked at their options. Tearing down the building would cost as much as $450,000, plus the cost of building a new church. Repairing St. Elizabeth -- not restoring it, but stabilizing the building to prevent further damage -- will cost about $200,000.

Half of that money will be used to put in an HVAC system, returning heat to the main sanctuary and allowing the building to be used year-round. Even without heat, air-conditioning or plumbing in the main sanctuary, St. Elizabeth is a popular venue for weddings and events, and has been used by multiple film crews.

“People use the space because they love it, but yeah, bathrooms would be great,” Stoxen said, adding that expanding the availability of the sanctuary could make the building financially self-sustaining.

The church has raised about $80,000 and started an online fundraising page to collect the rest of the $100,000 needed to move forward with HVAC-installation next spring.

While that work is done, Vineyard Central will need to raise another $100,000 for additional repairs, including gutter replacement, electrical work and adding bathrooms to the main sanctuary. In addition to money donations, the church is hoping to find people in the community who are willing to donate time or expertise to help with the repairs.

Vineyard Central already hosts music and community gatherings on St. Elizabeth's piazza in warm months. Stoxen imagines community dinners throughout the year in a repaired sanctuary, much like the 100-person gathering the church hosted in October. He hopes for more community efforts like Norwood Grows, an initiative from Woven Oak that has children gardening on the property.

“(St. Elizabeth) is this towering presence in the neighborhood, and it also is an anchor in the neighborhood,” said Angela Pancella, Woven Oak executive director and a member of the Vineyard Central capital campaign committee. “It's a chance for us to recommit to that space.”