Steeple saved – for now

By DAVID GUSTAFSON,

The school used to be a church.
And there still is a steeple.
The priest tried to have it removed.
And that angered some of the people.

Hattiesburg’s city council voted unanimously Tuesday to deny an appeal by officials with a downtown Catholic church who had hoped to remove portions of a 65-year-old church steeple that has kept a watchful eye on downtown Hattiesburg since 1952.

Father Ken Ramon-Landry, representing the parish of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, made the original request back in August to members of the Hattiesburg Historic Conservation Commission about the steeple/spire atop Sacred Heart Catholic School, which was previously the First Baptist Church of Hattiesburg.

At that meeting, the commission voted to table the issue until the parish presented a more specific plan about the project.

Ramon-Landry returned to the commission the following month and argued the spire was beyond repair and asked permission to remove it – and the accompanying belfry – and replace it with a simple white cross.

He also argued the steeple spire was not reflective of the building’s current use as a Catholic high school.

Despite the case made by Ramon-Landry, the commission voted 4-1 to deny the request due to the “negative impact that the proposal would have on the historic integrity of the structure and due to the lack of evidence that the spire was beyond repair.”

The parish appealed the decision, which is how it ended up before the city council during this week’s regularly-scheduled meeting. 

Prior to the vote, Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden made a case for denying the appeal and maintained the parish had not explored all of its options.

“There seem to be two choices here,” she said. “Either repair the steeple or come up with a suitable and appropriate plan to replace the steeple. Neither of those options have been presented at this time.”

Dryden also suggested that if the existing steeple were to be removed, it could be repurposed somewhere for historical preservation.

“Sacred Heart has always done the right thing and I know they will do the right thing now to continue to sustain the life of a beautiful building in downtown Hattiesburg.”