A Catholic order that has been around for almost 100 years is fighting the city of Waltham, Massachusetts, over plans to take their property by eminent domain.
Last month, the Waltham city council voted to take the 47-acre property off Lexington Street that belongs to The Espousal Center of the Stigmatine Father’s and Brothers. The hope is to build a new high school for students, according to members of the community.
The Stigmatines is a Catholic order, and the Espousal Center is the headquarters for the United States.
Evelyn Reilly, who has been going to the congregation and prayer service for 42 years, said their retreat center has helped thousands of people over the years.
“Out of all the weekends in a year, typically they have some kind of retreat going on there 48 weekends and the other times they don’t are holidays,” said Reilly.
Reilly claims the Stigmatines were never looking to sell the property, and she is not a fan of the executive session meetings the city council has been having on their decision to take the property. She said they are closed-door meetings, and no one knows what they are discussing and why.
“What happened to transparency in government? This is a clear conflict here. A clear conflict,” said Reilly.
Massachusetts municipal governments are allowed to use eminent domain to force the sale of private land for public use like school buildings, and there is no exception in the law for property owned by religious institutions.
“My heart tells me that I hope to God they fight this. I hope they push back. This is so wrong. It's an injustice,” said Reilly.
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.”
The mayor declined to comment while negotiations are going on.
Reilly contends there are dozens of other properties that could be considered for a new high school.
“I think the Stigmatines have earned the right to be left alone and do what they want with their own property,” said Reilly.
The provincial father of the Stigmatines did not return NBC10 Boston's request for comment.
Congregation members said that the value of the property is close to $20 million.