I t’s a social and economic reality: Senior citizens need affordable housing. And now, thanks to a decision by a local parish, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Sanford Planning Board, they’ll have some.

Assuming all goes smoothly, a senior housing complex will be established at the former St. Ignatius Catholic Church, which has lain dormant since the last mass was held there in 2010. Various options were considered for the building, including selling it to a retail business, but Rev. Phil Tracy, pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish, said he wanted to see the space serve a purpose consistent with the Christian tenet of helping those in need.

“I felt, in conjunction with our advisory board, that it was important to have something here in keeping with the church’s mission,” said Tracy. “It is such an iconic structure, and a place many call home.”

That seniors will soon call it home is a positve development for southern Maine’s aging population. As it stands, the $11 million plan calls for renovations and an addition to the existing building, which will house 66 units total. To fund the project, officials hired by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland’s Diocesan Bureau of Housing will approach the Maine State Housing Authority later this year in a hunt for federal tax credits. Rents are expected to be in the range of about $600-$700 a month, and serve those 55 and older collecting 60 percent of the area’s median income – approximately $20,000 to $30,000 annually. This is good news on a couple of different fronts, not the least of which is the attachment to the structure felt by former parishioners – as well as alumni of St. Ignatius High School, which was also housed in the building. While it’s always a shame to see a sound facility go to waste, it would have been doubly dissapointing had the old St. Ignatius gone to a retailer or other corporate entity – something distant and removed from the positive community spirit that the church brought during its time there. Using a former place of worship to hawk consumer merchandise would have seemed … well, sacreligious. Bringing senior housing to the complex fulfills Tracy’s wish that it continue to serve a community purpose.

There is, however, an even more practical consideration. Census figures indicate that Maine is the most aged state in the union, and with the senior citizen population climbing, the demographic is in dire need of affordable housing. Many older Americans live on fixed incomes, with some squeaking by on little more than Social Security. These still-vibrant, independent citizens often struggle to afford the basics. After a lifetime of working in and contributing to their communities, they deserve the dignity and respect of a simple home. The senior housing project at St. Ignatius accomplishes that, contingent upon the success of securing the funding mechanism.

Empty churches are a sad reality for those who subscribe to a religious faith. But projects like these help them accomplish a just and fitting afterlife. Hopefully the trend continues.