Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Neighbor against neighbor?

Holy Family Catholic Church.
Ray from Stella Borealis sent me an email which included an article from a local arts and news weekly covering a neighborhood conflict in a western suburb of Minneapolis. The problem is between Holy Family Catholic Church and a group of neighbors whose homes are adjacent to Church property. (City Pages article here.)
Holy Family parish has grown to be a vibrant Catholic community under the capable leadership of Fr. Thomas Duffner, who happens to be a very solid Catholic priest. Fr. Duffner is a traditional Catholic priest, although not in the rad-trad sense. He is very much in line with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church. His theology is impeccable, and his homilies reflect that, while he is very attuned to what plagues contemporary society and culture. He is admirably active in pro-life causes, pro-family, and so on. He seems to be a model priest, and though a busy pastor involved in every aspect of his parish, he takes time to nourish his prayer life in daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and prayer.
Do not covet thy neighbor's house.
I go to Holy Family quite often for adoration, confession, and occasional Sunday Mass. A few months ago I couldn't help but notice signs neighbors had posted on the back of their property facing the Church; "Do not covet thy neighbor's house." I knew immediately that the Church was interested in buying the neighbor's property so as to expand the Church complex. Fr. Dufner had re-opened the K-12 parish school across the street, providing solid Catholic education in the Archdiocese. The parish has grown so fast, there is a genuine need for office space, as well as a 'gathering space' separate from the quaint Norman style Church edifice.
Naturally the parish would look to a line of houses on the other side of the block, as the property would be the reasonable place to acquire for expansion of the Church campus. Trouble is, the neighbors don't want to sell, even though the Church has offered above market value for their homes. The homes are little better than what I call 'drive bys' yet they have a charm and are well kept homes, in a highly desirable neighborhood. As I understand it, a couple of the same families have lived there for decades. It is their home.
I doubt this is an anti-Catholic thing.
City Pages came to bat for the neighbors in an article some may read as hostile to Catholicism, if not Fr. Dufner. So far the chancery has pretty much stayed out of the fracas - after all, it is a neighborhood problem. Although the chancellor did communicate with the homeowners concerned to say nothing dishonest is going on in the transactions. The neighbors are accusing Father of being overly ambitious in his plans for Holy Family as well as secretive in his tactics. Obviously this is a hot issue and people's perceptions may be skewed.
Is Fr. Dufner ambitious? Is it covetousness to desire the neighbor's property? I suppose Fr. Dufner is ambitious, although ambitious for the Kingdom of God. The neighbors may see it entirely on a natural level however. Having met Fr. Dufner, though I respect him much, I can maybe see where he'd come off as ambitious and maybe a bit aloof. That is just his personality. He's a fast talker - I mean that literally - he squeezes a heck of a lot into a Sunday homily. He's a no nonsense man of his convictions, thus his approach in this contest may come off as cold and too business-like for the homeowners. And he just might be moving too fast for them. (I don't know the facts other than what I've read, so I'm just speculating here.)
Put yourself in the neighbors place.
Not a few of Holy Family's parishioners come from neighborhoods far away from the church - they don't live nearby - that neighborhood is not the one they live in. When I first saw the signs, I did think the desire for neighboring property could seem like covetousness to those not associated with the parish. Yet that is an exaggeration of terms, since the Church is willing to negotiate for the property, and is willing to pay above market value. However, the enthusiasm of the parish to acquire the property may come off as a little pushy.
Having said that, Catholics shouldn't be too quick to demonize the homeowners. Relocating is a difficult thing for most people, especially if they are long term residents. A man's home is his castle, homes create strong emotional bonds in families. Even selling at above market value, a home owner may have difficulty in replicating his home, property, and neighborhood, not to mention leaving longtime friends and neighbors. Another consideration to think about is that maybe the neighbors just don't like Fr. Dufner and his parishioners.
I've lived in my house since 1990, and I love my house. People have driven by and stopped to ask if I would be willing to sell it. My answer is always "no". If the Church across the street wanted to buy my property, again I would say "absolutely not". It is a Seventh Day Adventist church and they annoy me every Saturday because they park in my driveway, jam the streets with their vans, and litter, yet it is only one day a week. But even if it were a Catholic church - they wouldn't get my house.

I think the neighbors of Holy Family should be given a little slack. A house is not just another piece of property, it is a home - their home. As for any anti-Catholic tone in the City Pages article one has to remember that is the secular media take on conservative Catholic priests who are in line with Church teaching. They didn't exactly attack Fr. Dufner. People shouldn't over react to this one.
Prayer and patience obtains all. Holy Family will get their land.


  1. Good post, Terry.

    But I think it is important to stress that on both houses that have been purchased, the owners WANTED TO SELL; the owner of the second sale wanted to sell so badly to anyone other than the church that they accepted $15,000 less than the Father Duffner's offer.

    This is not an eminent domain situation. Nobody can force them to sell.

    It will be interesting to see if the current "sub-prime mortgage bankruptcy recession" will cause the other $300,000 houses on that block all of a sudden become $200,000 houses, or less.

  2. Yes - like I said at the end of the post, prayer and patience obtains all. The Church will get their property. Did you ever see "The Bells of St. Mary's"? The nun got her school for the kids.

    That is why I wouldn't make a big deal out of this.

  3. Good post Terry, I basically agree. I put my own thoughts up at my blog (of course :) but basically I see this as being a combination of some people (perhaps not even the majority of those on the block) having a bit of a personal issue with Fr. Dufner and the growth of Holy Family under him, and of CityPages spotting a possible "underdog against the big bad Church" story. As I said on my blog, however, CityPages really didn't go too far out of their way to attack Fr. Dufner or Holy Family directly, though you can tell they don't think much of us crazy "fundamentalist" Catholics or our adherence to the teachings of the Church. Oh well, their loss! To be honest, I enjoyed reading the article and I think most people with any objectivity will pick up the same threads I did and, if they're Catholics, get a laugh out of this like I did.

  4. Mary - you are right about the defending the under dogs against the big bad Church. The secular view is that the Church is already trying to run people's lives and dictate politics by telling people they can't abort babies, contracept, marry someone of the same sex, etc.. So it is only natural for them to get hostile when they think the Church is moving in on their private domain.

    As Ray suggested, the market being what it is, one day they may be begging Holy Family to buy their houses. LOL!

    The Church will get the land in the end.

  5. Anonymous3:14 AM

    i remember that fr dufner made it through the seminary by giving the answers the liberals wanted to hear

    lying perhaps

    fr altier always told the truth what he believed he almost didn't make it through

    joe oden bought a house for $300,000 cash

    joe has offered it to the church

    fr dufner said to covet means to hate that is not what covet means

    i don't know if i trust him

  6. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Dufner is in my opinion concerned with himself and does not look at anyone or anything other then proving a point of self importance. I have long time ties with this church, my parents were involved with the beginning of building this church and I remember well, Father Wilkins coming to our home. Father Dufner is closed minded, and has done things that are offensive to the long time members of this church. It seems to me he is more interested in leaving a mark then being a representitive for the people of the parish. Without the people he is nothing. yes, he may have revived some of the lost catholic mass traditions that are no longer in practice. He may "rule" old school. But at what cost? He needs to remember a few things.....he is not God, Jesus said "let the children come to me" to ask for money from people and then not let the people have any imput and to act like a dictator will in the long run back fire. I would disclose more but for reasons up an upcoming situation I will hold my thoughts. Then, I will speak of events that have led me to believe this man is anything but God like. God would never turn away anyone, especially a child that wanted to use a gift to express love. Shame on you Fr. Dufner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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