The oldest black Catholic church in Washington has become part of the condominium boom here, as it sold some of its buildings for $1.4 million to a developer for a condominium complex.
It's the latest twist in the history of Sts. Paul and Augustine Church, at 15th and V streets NW, which traces its roots to the mid-19th century, when former slaves tired of worshiping in church basement in Washington and decided to form their own congregation.
Raymond Kemp, the church's pastor, announced during a seminar marking Black History Month that the church had sold its former home at 1715 15th St. NW to the Urban Land Corporation.
Some of the proceeds of the sale will be used to eliminate $525,000 in church debts; another $400,000 will be invested so that the church's school can continue and student tuition costs reduced.
Ironically, Kemp said any remaining funds will be used to help members of the parish who face displacement because of the sale of their apartment buildings. "We plan to give low-interest loans so our church members can have a chance to buy their own units."
The move to sell the former church site, which includes a partially completed chuch, a school and convent, came after months of negotiation.
Kemp said the parish first considered building low-income housing on the site, but later decided to sell the property to pay off existing church debts.
During the seminar on the church's history, members took turns telling stories of its development. Pauline Jones described how former slaves built the first St. Augustine Church in 1863, on 15th Street between L and M streets NW.
Funds for the new church were collected through a number of activities, she said, including a July 4th festival on the White House lawn.
The church, which held services at the 15th Street site from 1865 to 1947, was later purchased by The Washington Post Company.
For 14 years, the St. Augustine Church -- named after a black African bishop -- was located at 1715 15th St. NW.
It was again moved in 1961, said Jones, when the Archdiocese of Washington merged it with the predominately white St. Paul Church.
The merger caused whites to leave the church and angered blacks because they had been required to sit at the rear of the St. Paul Church, Jones explained.