Two old ladies in Bigfork are stirring up a lot of trouble for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena. Ilene Gembala and Effie Dockstaeder-Holmes are suing the diocese to save their beloved St. Catherine’s Church from the wrecking ball.
The diocese wants to sell the church property for $1.2 million to developers, who would build condominiums on the nice piece of land overlooking Bigfork Bay. A new, larger church for St. Catherine’s parish would be built in a wheat field next to a gravel pit.
The diocese maintains that Bigfork needs a bigger church to meet the needs of the growing parish. But in their lawsuit, Dockstaeder-Holmes, who’s 94, and Gembala, who’s in her 70s, contend that they were promised a church in the present location in return for their donations to the original building fund in the 1950s and, therefore, the diocese can’t legally sell St. Catherine’s without breaking a contract with them.
“They were promised not just any church, but this church in this location, not just some church out in the middle of this big barren wheat field next to a gravel pit,” said their lawyer, Peter Leander.
Even though the move was approved last April by the St. Catherine’s parish steering and finance committee, Leander says most of the 120-family parish is against it.
The ladies lost the first round of their court fight last week when Flathead County District Judge Ted Lympus refused to grant a temporary injunction blocking the sale of the property. But Leander says they haven’t given up and another hearing should be held soon.