In a city as crowded with churches (and church-goers) as St. Louis, it is no wonder that properties owned by religious organizations and beloved by current or former members of their congregations often attract public attention. Because of the strong emotions evoked by churches, almost every decision about them is controversial to someone.
Local churches have switched theologies or languages as the patterns of their neighborhoods have changed. Former churches have become condos, apartments, restaurants, offices - and even theaters. Plenty of churches sit empty waiting for new congregations or inspired developers, or - occasionally - for the wrecking ball. Other churches are planning major expansions, small additions, or other changes to their buildings.
That brings me to the Lady of Lavang.
The Lady of Lavang is an apparition of Mary celebrated by Vietnamese Catholics in much the same way Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, or Our Lady of Guadalupe is venerated by other groups of Catholics.
Vietnamese Catholics using Resurrection Catholic Church in the 25th Ward hope to build an “exterior sculpture garden” adjacent to the church, and have applied for a building permit. (It’s actually a rock grotto and a statue, but you get the point.) Because that particular church - unlike most other churches in the City - is a Designated City Landmark (Number 68, according to the Cultural Resources Office), the construction requires the approval of the City’s Preservation Board, whose staff has reasonable doubts about aspects of the project, particularly those that would require demolition of existing elements of the Modernist complex.
Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner strongly supports the project, but would like it to be built in a way that protects the integrity of the church’s original architecture. That condition would probably mean shifting the grotto to another part of the church’s property and reviewing its design and materials.
I agree with the alderwoman. I hope that a reasonable compromise can be worked out that respects the wishes of the church’s members to express their religious beliefs in a particular manner and place - and the importance of Resurrection to other Catholics, to its neighbors, and to the wider St. Louis community. Then, I hope the Preservation Board approves it.