After listening to more than six hours of passionate pleas from feuding parishioners, preservationists, architects, school graduates and Operation Pedro Pan alumni, the Miami City Commission unanimously approved the historic designation of St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church off Brickell Avenue.
The 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones absent, came at 2:38 a.m. Friday.
The decision means changes or renovations to the exterior of the 66-year-old church will have to be approved by the city’s preservation board.
“I believe that St. Jude was with us tonight as was Our Lady of the Assumption,” said Souraya Faas, one of the leaders behind the historic designation effort.
Others, however, took a decidedly different point of view, including the church pastor, the Rt. Rev. Damon Geiger. He and others are concerned the church, surrounded by Brickell high-rises, will not be able to expand and will face financial hardship as a result of the historic designation.
Declared parishioner Andrea Monzani: “The only thing we need to save St. Jude from is imposed designation.”
Opponents of the designation said Friday they likely would appeal the commission’s decision.
Scores of supporters for each side showed up Thursday to give their testimony, some as early as 9:30 in the morning, only to be told by Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff they would have to wait until at least 7 p.m.
The item came up before the commission at 8:04 p.m. Thursday and did not conclude until after the 2:38 a.m. vote on Friday.
Parishioners opposed to the designation wore green ribbons with pins that depicted St. Jude, while the pro-designation crowd wore green and white shirts that stated, “Vote Yes on Historical Designation” and showed an image of the poured-concrete and Indiana limestone church, located at 126 SE 15th Rd.
The dispute arose last August, when a small group of parishioners from the church, aligned with prominent preservationists, started pushing for historic designation. In April, the city’s preservation voted 4-2 in favor of historic designation, but that was one vote short of what was needed from the 10-member board.
That decision was appealed, leading to the commission’s approval early Friday morning.
The months-long dispute over the chapel has been contentious, with aspersions cast in both directions alleging that one side or the other has misled the public and parishioners.
The Bishop of the Eparchy of Newton — in essence, the U.S. head of the church — wrote a letter to parishioners in September. After referencing “a small group of misguided persons” who have been “spreading false and malicious rumors concerning the future of St. Jude parish” and emphasizing that there were no plans to sell the church, Bishop Nicholas Samra issued a stark warning to parishioners stating, “anyone who attempts to disturb the peace of a parish or incites hatred or ill feelings toward the lawful hierarchy of the church places themselves in great spiritual jeopardy.”
On Thursday, the city’s historic preservation staff recommended the historic designation. The staff report stated the previous owners of the church, the Sisters of the Assumption, “actively participated in” Operation Pedro Pan, a project that brought unaccompanied Cuban children to Miami in the 1960s after Fidel Castro came to power.