The Teresian Carmelite monks, a tiny religious community in Worcester with few assets other than five computers and donated furniture, live a life of contemplation. Clad in brown hooded tunics and sandals, they spend six hours a day in prayer, interspersed with silence, solitude, daily Mass, spiritual readings, and household chores.
Lately, they have added another activity to their daily schedule: battling in court with one of the country’s largest telecommunication companies.
The Teresians have sued Boston-based American Tower Corp., saying it reneged on its agreement to sell them a 99-acre site in central Massachusetts where they want to build a monastery and wind farm that would subsidize electricity for hundreds of low-income homes. The monks believe the company reversed its decision after realizing the property could be used for alternative energy.
“This was supposed to be the gift of a miracle,” said Brother Dennis Wyrzykowski, prior of the Catholic order, which received $225,000 in donations to help pay for the land , “but instead we have the challenge of litigation.”
American Tower would not comment.
The hilly woodland property on Asnebumskit Hill in Paxton, with sweeping views of Wachusett Valley and the Berkshire Mountains, is a popular site for hikers, dog walkers, and others drawn to its natural beauty. When Wyrzykowski discovered the land during a walk two years ago, he believed he finally had found a location for an environmentally friendly monastery the Teresians had hoped to build for nearly 25 years.
In April 2005, the Teresians signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the property with American Tower, one of the nation’s largest owners of sites for broadcast and wireless services, which agreed to sell it to them for $230,000. The Teresians paid a $5,000 deposit and set a closing date of Oct. 31, 2005.
Within a week of inking the agreement, the Teresians learned the site had been designated “one of the best locations for wind energy on land in the state” by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state’s development agency for renewable energy, which wanted to put two wind turbines there. Through a low-income initiative administered by the collaborative, part of the revenue from the sale of the wind would subsidize energy efficiency programs for hundreds of Massachusetts homes, according to Christopher Kealey, a spokesman for the collaborative.
“That wind power meant we could take care of the physical needs of people, as well as the spiritual needs,” Wyrzykowski said. “So we would not only be praying for the people of the world, but giving them power.”
On the scheduled day of the closing, American Tower asked for a monthlong delay to review documents, according to an e-mail from a company attorney to a lawyer for the Teresians. On Nov. 22, according to Wyrzykowski, he received a call from American Tower vice president Ross W. Elder, who told him the company wanted to lease the land for 99 years rather than sell it due to its commercial potential.
That was unacceptable to the monks because “monasteries are here for 1,000 years, not 100 years, so if I took that offer the future of my monastery would depend on leases and business people, ” Wyrzykowski said. “I want to secure this land clear and free so the future leaders of this monastery do not have to deal with anything except praying for people and being the spiritual life center we’re called to be.”
Elder referred questions to a company lawyer, who did not return a call. An outside counsel for the company, Boston lawyer Michael G. Paris, said he would not comment on pending litigation.
Elder also said the deal has been stalled by a Marshfield wireless communication company that leases 2 acres of the site and contends its lease gives it the right to buy the acreage if the land is sold, according to Wyrzykowski. The company, Industrial Communications and Electronics Inc., sued American Tower and the Teresians earlier this year, claiming they were interfering with its right to purchase . A Worcester lawyer for the company, Vincent F. O’Rourke Jr., declined to comment.
Two Federal Aviation Administration rulings limiting the height of towers that could be built on the property, the most recent issued in June, have since put the land’s wind development potential in doubt, according to Kealey. And with the scheduled closing date now nearly a year old, “American Tower is in a position where it needs to take the bull by the horns and solve this problem,” said Providence lawyer David E. Maglio, who represents the Teresians.
“It’s the David and Goliath story,” said Wyrzykowski, noting that the monks’ legal bills mount as the case drags on. “We have nothing, and they have money to do whatever they want, so financially we’re up against a wall.”
By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff
Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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