Bishop's Real Estate Plans Embattled
With Inherited Mansion Come Heirs Who Oppose Sale
By Annmarie Timmins
Concord Monitor [Manchester NH]
September 17, 2003
MANCHESTER - Five months before he died in 1947, George Trudel willed his River Road mansion to the state's Catholic bishops, to "be forever used as the private residence."
Bishop John McCormack wants permission to sell that sprawling property and keep the money for his own living expenses - over objections from Trudel's heirs and a Catholic activist from Merrimack.
In opposing McCormack's plans, they filed legal challenges arguing that McCormack should not be allowed to violate Trudel's wishes simply because the Diocese of Manchester lost millions from the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
Lawyer Daniel Schwarz of Exeter filed an objection in Hillsborough County Superior Probate Court on behalf of Candice Coll, one of Trudel's heirs.
"George Trudel intended that a bishop live in his home forever as a private residence," Schwarz wrote. "It was not his intent that (the home) be sold to finance other obligations of the (bishop) or to otherwise provide (McCormack) with financial relief."
Carolyn Disco of Merrimack filed a similar objection this month.
"Relief (from the will's obligations) is not a backup plan for the financial effects of failure to exercise due diligence and moral leadership in the conduct of one's office," Disco wrote.
The case is scheduled for a preliminary conference this month. McCormack had expected his request to go so smoothly that he intended to be out of the Trudel home by June.
The home by itself is assessed at $573,100, according to a Web site maintained by Manchester City Hall. Its grounds and interior (a winding staircase, sun room, formal living room and oversized kitchen) are thought to be worth closer to $1 million.
Pat McGee, diocesan spokesman, said yesterday that McCormack and the diocese believe they are honoring Trudel's intent with a request to sell the property. Church officials read Trudel's will as his desire to "support" the bishop, McGee said. Selling the home and using the proceeds would meet his expectation, McGee said.
"I think we are trying to honor the intention while at the same time realizing that over the course of 50 years, things change," McGee said.
Disco, who has led calls for McCormack's resignation, disputed that assertion in her court filing. She noted that Trudel's eight-page will was specific enough that he would have specifically arranged for McCormack's living expenses, had he wanted to do so. She also cited the remarks of an elderly friend of Trudeau's, who told a reporter recently that Trudel was such a devout Catholic that he died happier knowing the bishop would live in his home.
In addition to his residence (and its "draperies, stair carpets, porcelain vase and stand in front hall"), Trudel left the bishop an additional $5,000 for a new chapel in his late wife's name on the River Road property. Trudel, who made his money with his Manchester plumbing and heating supply business, was so particular in his will that he arranged for dozens of possessions, right down to his smoking jackets.
Those, as well as his ashtrays and stands, went to his nephew. His niece got $1,000 plus his pillow cases and his best linen sheets, among other possessions. He left $7,500 for the education of another niece and nephew with the caveat that the money would go to others if they did not pursue higher education.
Inez Eley of Argo, Ind., is also protesting McCormack's desire to sell the property and keep the money. Her mother worked for Trudel as a bookkeeper for nearly 35 years and was left $10,000 in his will, plus a portion of any other money that remained. When she died, the money would go to her heirs, according to the will.
Eley learned from cousins still living in Manchester that the diocese was trying to sell the property. When the told her, she filed an appearance in the case with the hope that the judge will honor the language of the will and remember her and her mother if the property sells.
"The judge has to do what the will says, wouldn't you think?" she said yesterday.
State law allows a probate judge to overrule the requirements of a will in certain circumstances. McCormack's lawyer, Ovide Lamontagne, cited one of those provisions in court request. He wrote that the cost of maintaining and operating the home - the diocese figures it has spent $150,000 on it since 1993 - has made it an impractical residence for the bishop.
"The (Trudel home) is becoming . . . obsolete given the acute financial demands which (the bishop) is facing in the short and long term," Lamontagne wrote.
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