The city of Waltham, Massachusetts needs to build a new high school. They have set their sights on a large piece of land owned by the Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers, a Catholic order which has owned the property for nearly a century.

The Waltham city council recently voted to take the land, valued at over $20 million dollars, through eminent domain. Sean Philip Cotter reports at the Boston Herald:

Catholic order fights Waltham eminent domain claim

The obscure Catholic order of Stigmatines is in a fight with Waltham City Hall over plans to take the religious group’s property by eminent domain for a new public high school.

People who have worshipped and been helped by the order of priests and brothers are rallying to their cause.

“It just appalls me,” said Evelyn Reilly of Waltham, who’s attended Mass with the Stigmatines for 42 years at their chapel on a 46-acre property off Lexington Street in North Waltham.

“To turn around and treat the priests like that is just hypocrisy. … It will put them totally out,” Reilly said.

But that may be inevitable, as the Waltham City Council last month approved the taking of the property by a 10-4 vote.

Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy and other city officials declined to comment, saying they are barred from talking about this matter because the deliberations were done in executive session and negotiations with the Stigmatines remain ongoing.

Massachusetts allows municipalities to use eminent domain for public purposes, such as schools, but many critics claim the decision was made with little to no transparency.

Opponents of the plan also note that this is the United States headquarters for the Stigmatine order.

Cassy Arsenault of New England Cable News reports that there is also support for the plan from a group called Waltham Citizens for Education:

There’s a group in Waltham that agrees with Mayor Jeannette McCarthy and the city council. If you drive around the city, blue signs that read “Stand up for Waltham students” most likely indicate that person is a part of the Waltham Citizens for Education group.

The group sent us a statement that said in part:

“Enrollment is growing by 100-150 students a year. City officials had a responsibility to plan for now and for the future. While we appreciate how hard that decision was to make, we also applaud the city council and Mayor McCarthy for standing up for thousands of students.”

A message on the Stigmatines website makes it clear that they have no interest in selling:

SAVE OUR PROPERTY: SAY NO TO EMINENT DOMAIN!

This is our home, our place in the world, our public identity. Our presence and our work are associated with this beautiful expansive property. It is a place where we have provided meaningful and even life-changing ministry for thousands upon thousands of men, women and children through the retreats and other spiritual programs offered at the Espousal Retreat House. It is also the home for our retired priests who are no longer capable of continuing in ministry. We continue to use our property in Waltham as we have for almost 100 years. We wish to continue our ministry here on our property without further interference from the City.

The Mayor’s efforts to acquire the Stigmatine property for the high school have been coercive and relentless. No one is doubting or discounting the need for a new high school in Waltham. We just don’t believe the City should be able to end our existence here in Waltham because it covets our land for its own use. Nor do we believe any Citizen of Waltham should ever be treated the way Stigmatines have been treated by the City throughout this process.

Featured image via New England Cable News video.