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MA City Council Using Eminent Domain to Take Catholic Order’s Land for New High School

MA City Council Using Eminent Domain to Take Catholic Order’s Land for New High School

“Catholic order of Stigmatines is in a fight with Waltham City Hall over plans to take the religious group’s property”

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:


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.


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This might be a steep uphill fight for the city of Waltham. since the passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000, there have been several federal district court cases which have ruled that seizing property owned by a religious organization, under eminent domain, is a violation of the act. While most of the cases involved an attempt to seize the property for economic development, I do not see how seizing it for local government use is really any different.

buckeyeminuteman | July 13, 2018 at 11:23 am

Surely there is a shuttered K-Mart or strip plaza the city could acquire. At the very least buy some farmland or wooded area. Definitely wouldn’t give in to a court-ordered removal.

    Tom Servo in reply to buckeyeminuteman. | July 13, 2018 at 11:32 am

    agreed; it’s hard to imagine that this is the only possible location they could have considered. In eminent domain cases involving roads and pipelines, necessity is always the strongest argument in favor – the road is better off straight for safety, the pipeline route chosen is necessary for geological and engineering reasons. But a high school? Why must it be on that particular acreage and no other?

      Frequently the decision process on such things becomes target-fixated to the point where even *discussing* an alternative gets vicious. Any rational board member should be able to say “Look, trying to take this ground will cost us 4X as much as building here or here or even here, and take several years for the case to go through the courts just for us to *lose*”

      Odds are they already have an architect’s drawing of the area (which cost $$) and some plans (which cost $$ and will inevitably need to be totally redrawn) as well as a neatly organized checklist, this giving them a huge Sunk Cost in their minds.

    tom_swift in reply to buckeyeminuteman. | July 13, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    At the very least buy some farmland or wooded area.

    There are more farmlands and wooded areas in Manhattan than there are anywhere near downtown Waltham.

      Look at a satellite view of the map.

      Literally across the street of “Jack’s Way” from the current High School is the Storer Conservation site. There’s easily enough space there to build a High School twice the size of the current one, and STILL leave two-thirds of the Conservation site intact. But that might damage the home values of the surrounding properties, which would cut into the tax base.

      The geology between the two sites does not look that different.

      The City thinks they can get away with converting non-taxable land (the religious organization) into public land, without ticking off the locals (or possibly pleasing the non-Catholic ones).

        Bill A in reply to Chuck Skinner. | July 16, 2018 at 9:51 am

        I came to the same conclusion. The Storer Conservancy is part of the Mass Audubon Society and they carry significant political clout which I am sure that a City Council would not wish to annoy.

    Subotai Bahadur in reply to buckeyeminuteman. | July 13, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    I’m sure that there are other alternatives. However, while Waltham’s city government is technically elected on a non-partisan basis; it is a Democrat ruled fiefdom. Where else could they put the school and at the same time attack not only Christians, but also especially Catholics? Remember anti-Catholic, at least devout Catholic, prejudice is now respectable for Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) attacked Appeals Court Judge Amy Comey Barrett for her Catholic faith during her confirmation. It is going to get worse.

    casualobserver in reply to buckeyeminuteman. | July 13, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I cannot speak to Waltham specifically but throughout MA and New England the Catholic church has been shrinking. Over approximately the last decade they have shuttered parishes and closed facilities all over. It would be a fair guess that there might be some unused property belonging to the church in that town already.

    Massinsanity in reply to buckeyeminuteman. | July 15, 2018 at 11:52 am

    What makes the actions of the city all the more suspect is that the city purchased the former Fernald mental health institution in 2014 for $3.7M. The Fernald site is 186 acres and is located off of Trapelo Road which is a major thoroughfare in the city. It is seemingly an ideal site for a large high school.

    Waltham is not a wealthy city, I find it hard to believe that taking on another $20M in debt for a school site is in the best interest of the citizens and it makes me believe there are ulterior motives at work here.

      Edward in reply to Massinsanity. | July 17, 2018 at 7:17 am

      I have no doubt that the City of Waltham has no plans to pay anything near $20 million for the property. The city likely has a “friendly” assessor willing to bring in an assessed value of perhaps half (or less) that amount.

100-150 students per YEAR? That is tremendous growth. Where are all those students coming from, and is the housing growth commensurate with the student growth?

    tom_swift in reply to herm2416. | July 13, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    Maybe Mexico.

    Waltham has a huge Portuguese sub-population, mostly from the Azores. More may be arriving, I’m not up on the latest.

Is there a “reasonable man” standard for eminent domain?

Go to google maps and find the “Stigmatine Waltham”.
You will see that the are two schools just across the street from the church property. Both schools are surrounded by plenty of undeveloped land. The city does have alternatives, so this not about “the children”.

When this nation has execrable SCOTUS rulings, like Kelo(2005), from a judicial tyrant, like David Souter, who greenlit the confiscation of private property for commercial devolopment, the priests of Stigmatine will find little refuge in the law from a proposed government school house.

Is it time to ban government schools, and WTH is wrong with New England??

rename it a mosque then see if they try to take it….

Mike-in-Mass | July 13, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Is anybody else disgusted with the aggressive nature of all School Boards / Town Councils when it comes to building new town facilities? Why do all new Schools, Fire Stations, Police Stations, DPW Maintenance buildings cost $5-10 million and are always built on undeveloped land? Is this their way of getting as many Union Brothers and Sisters in on the lucrative planning and construction costs? They gladly adorn the schools with plaques honoring every schlub that helped fleece the taxpayers with construction bonds for 30+ years.

The only town to repurpose a school in my memory was the nice job Milford, MA did in the 1990’s to modernize their old shuttered stone school houses that were built in 1901. By building right next to the existing schools, they didn’t have to acquire any more land and simply tied the buildings into the active school during summer vacation.

    “Why do all new Schools, Fire Stations, Police Stations, DPW Maintenance buildings cost $5-10 million and are always built on undeveloped land?”

    While there might occasionally be structures in the area that could be converted to Police Stations or DPW Maintenance buildings, the necessary design features of most Fire Stations are unique enough to make conversion not cost effective. Even many older Fire Stations are no longer usable with modern firefighting vehicles.

      forksdad in reply to PaulM. | July 13, 2018 at 2:39 pm

      Half of the police stations I worked at were old fire stations. One used to be a gym. You can workin anything.

      The res where I was a kid used an old house as a police station for a while. Fire stations need shelter for the equipment and jails need sturdy walls but nothing needs cost what municipalities pay for it.

      The money goes to friends of the guy awarding the bid who kicks some back the other way. Hell it’s the American way.

    they are taking their cue from the new nato bldg in brussels

    Anonamom in reply to Mike-in-Mass. | July 14, 2018 at 10:30 am

    “Is anybody else disgusted with the aggressive nature of all School Boards / Town Councils when it comes to building new town facilities?”

    Yes. We live in a teeny, tiny place, where homeschooling is common and enrollment is declining. Nonetheless, our school board has the sadz because their buildings are old (as in, built in the ’50s. The 1950s.) They floated a bazillion dollar bond issue to build all new schools. Not update existing ones, but replace them. This in a place where we don’t believe in debt. At all. They were shocked when the rubes said, “NO.”

      Edward in reply to Anonamom. | July 17, 2018 at 7:25 am

      You are lucky “the rubes” learned about the bond elections and voted it down. Our area is primarily rural and the school board makes sure that the only notices of a bond election are posted at the school (sure the kids are going to tell their parents) and the town’s County sub-courthouse. No local paper to worry about either. So the teachers and their families turn out and vote in all the bonds.

    Massinsanity in reply to Mike-in-Mass. | July 15, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Mike, if you have been in MA for a while a big part of the problem is that the state often subsidizes these new high school so its the state tax payers who are paying for them. The subsidies can often be 90% or higher and it led to several new high schools approaching $200M in cost. Newton North is perhaps the most expensive of these projects.

    And MA does have a prevailing wage law so all state projects are done by high cost union labor, this was one of the contributors to the ever escalating cost of the big dig.

G. de La Hoya | July 13, 2018 at 2:21 pm

Sad. Just a daycare center/indoctrination camp by another name with newer, advanced technologies that will teach your kid how not to work and socialize properly 😉

Schools are juvenile prisons half the time and babysitting facilities the other half. Some learning does go on but that’s incidental.

This isn’t for, ‘the childrens’ this is to break up a bunch of land the city wants to develop.

Went and checked a map– this is moronic.

The current high school is across a 4 lane road, in a wooded area, with about a thousand feet of highway separating the turn-offs.

Leave the road the high school and middle school is on, take a left, drive a thousand feet, take a right, and boom:


With even MORE heavily wooded areas directly across Jack’s Road (the road the schools are on).

But they can’t build an expansion in the land that’s RIGHT THERE, they need to cross a road and take ANOTHER heavily wooded area?

Wouldn’t be an issue of property taxes would it?

Eminent domain is just like civil forfeiture. Sounded like a useful tool in rare, obvious situations then government gets a tingle up their leg when they get to use it. Pretty soon, they use to take anything they want. Salem, OR school board took a valuable piece of developable farmland from the family of a former governor, on a hilltop for a high school, paid them a pittance of its usable value. Built a taj Mahal building on it too. Grossly overspending…

When you elected rinos like George H.W. Bush, they appoints rino Supreme Court judges like David Souter, and they hand down decisions like New London vs. Kelo (2005). Hence: MA City Council Usses Eminent Domain to Take Catholic Order’s Land.

Keep away from the Bushes.

How does anyone assess the dollar value of a church property???They must to be fair pay for the new location and all building costs and the church must agree that it is fair. Building a church outside where their parishioners live is not in any way fair.

    Edward in reply to dunce1239. | July 17, 2018 at 7:32 am

    No, any target of Eminent Domain action does not have to agree to the amount offered by the political entity seizing the property. If the government’s offer is rejected the courts will decide what the value is and (without superb attorneys opposing the government) that most frequently falls to an amount close to (if not exactly) the amount the government wants.

Portland likes to use the black mold excuse. They want a building, suddenly it has black mold. And if they really want it: RADON! Colorless, invisible, explains low test scores. The ultimate excuse.

blah deblah | July 17, 2018 at 7:39 am

Hey, maybe bus them to Southie.

That worked out really well last time.

    I remember those days.

    What a disaster.

    Fortunately I left MA many moons ago.(to use an idiom from Elizabeth Warren’s heritage)