Commercial real estate is typically about transactions, but at times, there is added value having little to do with dollars. The initiatives and dedication of Arthur “Skip” Gonsalves are a good example. This weekend, Dr. Gonsalves, a vascular surgeon in his professional life, formally opened Fusion Church of Lowell. This was once the former St. Jeanne D’Arc Church in Lowell’s Pawtucketville neighborhood. Dr. Gonsalves, his wife Crystal, and their five children were present to celebrate with hundreds of congregants. Fusion Life counts among its members those who have lived with the challenges of faith, homelessness, drugs and other disadvantages.
Skip and his family purchased the former Catholic Church in 2013. It was motivated to expand a mission Dr. Gonsalves described as a personal calling. Starting as a youth mission, Dr. Gonsalves discovered there to be dramatic needs within the Lowell community. Their web site discusses the program’s evolution as follows:
“The youth organization changed over time and Gonsalves saw a need that required a more permanent home base. Early one morning he was browsing through real estate listings and saw a web site listing for the former Jeanne D’Arc Church at Fourth Avenue in Pawtucketville. The church, to the frustration of the neighborhood, had been closed ten years ago by the Catholic Archdiocese and was for sale. It was vacant and threatened by vandalism and water damage. Gonsalves saw a need for a tangible place for community activities to happen.”
The work that Chip and many volunteers have done is quite amazing when seen in person. It has transformed a vacant church – from basement to steeple – into an active place of worship, community center and food pantry.
Six years ago, The Edge Group, Inc. representing the Catholic Archdiocese, placed the property on the market. The size of the then Franco-American parish had gotten smaller as populations changed. The church had been closed and the property was at risk. Could the property after ten years of vacancy be saved? The Archdiocese, to its credit, recognized that a non-traditional church would represent a use with advantages to the area, rather than a dense housing or other type development.
The 200-plus observers that celebrated with Chip and Crystal were both enthusiastic and proud. As Chip announced the intention to add a gym facility to the church facilities and remarked that there is more to do, he took time to praise the volunteer workers and staff. The attendees queued up for group photos and shared a generous lunch spread. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, at the new Fusion Lowell, there was much for which to be thankful.