The News Journal/Jennifer Corbett
In this June 3, 2019, photo a worker installs a terrazzo floor in the main chapel of the Cathedral Church of St. John in Brandywine Village in Wilmington, Del.
The News Journal/Jennifer Corbett

In this June 3, 2019, photo a worker installs a terrazzo floor in the main chapel of the Cathedral Church of St. John in Brandywine Village in Wilmington, Del.

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By JEANNE KUANG Delaware News Journal

WILMINGTON, Del. — For more than 150 years, members of Wilmington’s Episcopal community were baptized, married and eulogized at the imposing Cathedral Church of St. John in Brandywine Village.

This year, after sitting vacant since 2012 due to declining membership and rising maintenance costs, the church will be reborn with a new purpose: housing the elderly.

The Ministry of Caring has converted the historic Gothic Revival structure and a priest’s residence on its grounds into 17 apartment units for low- and moderate-income seniors. A new building adjoining the church adds 36 units to the new Village of St. John.

The apartments will be offered to residents over the age of 62, with a maximum of four residents per unit and income restrictions determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the cathedral building, each unit retains architectural characteristics of the original church — tall, arched, wrought-iron windows in one, the wooden roof beams of the old choir room in another.

Some units even have stained glass casting soft, colored light into the living space.

The Ministry of Caring is taking applicants for the apartments for seniors living on 30 to 60 percent of the HUD-determined area median income, which in Wilmington means about $21,000 to $42,000 for two people. Rents range from $492 to $1,521 per month.

The cathedral will be converted to an open space for community gatherings and performances by the Choir School of Delaware, which is headquartered in a neighboring building. A nondenominational side chapel, adorned with intricate stone carvings, will be kept for residents to use.

The $15 million renovation was partially financed by tax credits for historic preservation and for low-income housing. Construction was done by a Philadelphia firm that specializes in converting historic, religious structures, according to Ministry development director Priscilla Rakestraw.

Rakestraw said the Ministry had the full support of city and state officials.

“When I drive past that project, it gives me confidence that we can take so many of the buildings that look like they’re in decline and re-purpose them in a way that uplifts the community,” Mayor Mike Purzycki said. “That project is a beacon for what’s possible in that neighborhood.”

The church overlooks parts of northeast Wilmington that have seen better days. North Market Street, once a bustling business corridor, struggles with vacancies.

Purzycki said he’s confident the “magnificent” renovation could be a “shot in the arm” for redevelopment in the area.

The city made road and sidewalk improvements to support the project and added a pedestrian crosswalk on Concord Avenue, connecting the apartments and a parking lot that visitors will be able to use.

Purzycki’s office supported the Ministry’s applications for tax credits.

Initial construction in 2017 was delayed by “a challenge” related to historic tax credits, according to a project overview provided by the Ministry. Emails show the tax credits that year had already been awarded for the Buccini-Pollin Group’s renovation of the DuPont Building for Chemours.

The church opened in 1858, funded primarily by Alexis I. du Pont and his wife Joanna.