This is in response to an article published in the Ravalli Republic on September 15 by the Southside Historic Preservation Committee. A few comments are in order.

My OP-ED piece was a commentary I posted in response to a Facebook thread, "Remembering the Bitterroot When."

Regarding bias - My comments about bias were specifically directed to the comments on Facebook:

• “Just quit going to church”

• “If people didn’t go to church so much they wouldn’t need a new one”

• “Isn't vanity a deadly sin? That's all the diocese power play is about. Tax free corporation that wants more shit to show off. Pathetic.”

In terms of bias against practicing Catholic Christians, I think these statements speak for themselves.

Regarding the value of sacramental life versus the value of an historical building — “Ms. Callaghan-Stover also chooses to trivialize the concern about the church’s value as a historical structure and pretends that value pales in comparison to its worth to the church community as a sacred space.”

 Yes. I do believe that the value of our church structure as a sacred space is more important than its value as an historical structure. This structure was built by Catholics and has been lovingly and consistently tended to and paid for by Catholics since 1896. Our church structure was the first structure erected in that area and other people chose to build their homes around it. The fact that our Catholic community in Hamilton has maintained the church structure in its current form does not obligate us to maintain it in that way when it no longer meets the needs of our parish community.

I have enjoyed celebrating our sacramental life in the existing church structure. If the choice has to be made between preserving the existing structure and rebuilding to ensure a safe, adequate and accessible space for our entire Catholic community to celebrate our sacramental life together now and in the future, my choice will always be clear in favor of the latter.

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As a seventh generation Montanan, I have a deep and abiding love and respect for the history and landmarks of our great state. I come from a long line of Montana ancestors who worked tirelessly to protect and preserve much of our Montana history, and who taught me the value of doing so.

It is more important to me that our parish community has a safe, adequate and accessible space where we can continue to celebrate our sacramental life together. It saddens me that there are any members of our Catholic community who would put their own emotional attachment to and personal enjoyment of a structure above the goal of assuring that we have a safe, adequate and accessible space where we can continue to celebrate our sacramental life together. Buildings are temporal; our faith community is timeless.

“Prior generations have taken outstanding care of this church. It has been faithfully maintained for over 120 years. It would be a great disservice to our ancestors to so readily destroy that which they have created.”

It would be a greater “disservice to our ancestors” to fail to provide adequately for future generations. We honor their vision and their sacrifices by continuing the Catholic community’s tradition to prepare for our future.

Regarding property rights — “The church has acted as though their property rights are the only rights to have value. Neighbors have property rights, too, and those include rights to a safe, peaceful and uncongested neighborhood environment.”

The fundamental right we are asserting is our First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. Without a safe, adequate and accessible space, some members of our parish community will be restricted in the free exercise of their religion. It is important to us as neighbors that we do our best to minimize the impact of any “congestion” on our neighborhood, but our constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of exercise of religion trumps the non-enumerated “right” to be free of “congestion” for the roughly six hours of street parking used for weekend Masses.

Regarding the increased need for space — “The Catholic Church’s well-known difficulties have led to the current shortage of priests.”

Regardless of the cause, it is the parishioners of the St. Francis Parish community who are being negatively impacted by the shortage of priests. The members of our parish were in no way responsible for the “well-known difficulties” in the Church. The shortage of priests is a reality that our local parish community must deal with. The core of our Catholic religious life is our celebration of our sacraments, first and foremost being our community celebration of the Mass. Catholics cannot celebrate Mass without a priest. Our priest is already over-extended and we need to expand our seating capacity to accommodate fewer Masses per weekend, not more.

— Tricie Callaghan-Stover, Hamilton