On Nov. 10, 2021, the Montana Jewish Project, a Montana nonprofit corporation, agreed to reacquire the Temple Emanu-El synagogue building that currently houses the Chancery of the Diocese of Helena. The historic building was constructed in 1881 by a bustling Jewish population. It was the first synagogue between Minneapolis and Portland. The State of Montana took over the building from a waning Jewish community during the great depression, promising to use it for a good purpose. It contained welfare and then social service offices before going up for auction in 1981. Under the leadership of Archbishop Elden Curtiss, the Diocese of Helena purchased the property to house the chancery or bishop’s administrative offices. The building made the rolls of the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
With interest from Montana’s Jewish population and a vision to work with community organizations promoting the common good, the nonprofit Montana Jewish Project responded with enthusiasm at the prospect of acquiring the property. They envision a statewide cultural center that celebrates Jewish life. According to their website, they seek to “Create a vibrant and welcoming home for culture and Jewish life in Montana that sparks Tikkun Olam—working together to repair a shattered world.”
Board President for the nonprofit, Rebecca Stanfel, and Bishop Vetter met in November to sign an agreement that requires a modest down payment and allows fundraising until June of 2022. Both sides view the agreement as an opportunity to come together in faith – and for a good cause. At the signing, Stanfel expressed her gratitude that the diocese was operating with patience and dignity. At the same time, Bishop Vetter called the relationship a sign of hope, saying, “In a society that so often just shows the divisions and the factions that are a part of our society, what a wonderful thing to be able to finally set an example of, no, not everything has to be a division, that we can do good things together if we sit down and are creative.”
The Diocese of Helena has been working toward relocating the chancery while consolidating diocesan offices and ministries over the last year. The new location will include the Foundation for the Diocese of Helena which is in the current chancery, and it will add the offices of the Montana Catholic Conference (MCC), and Catholic Social Services of Montana (CSSM).
Named the Center for Catholic Life, the new configuration will be on the second floor of the Seeley Building on Last Chance Gulch in Helena. The pending sale of the MCC and CSSM properties will help fund the project. The sale of the bishop’s home and the generosity of donors will fund a residence for Bishop Vetter on the third floor. The move should be complete around year’s end.
The mailing address for the diocese offices will remain P.O. Box 1729, Helena, MT 59624. Phone numbers and emails will not change for current Chancery and Foundation for the Diocese of Helena personnel.
Bishop Vetter has asked that all in our diocese pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters as we rekindle our relationship in a loving and generous God.