NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – A sign in front of the Sutton home of Alain Beret and James Fairbanks says it is for sale. They’d expected to move soon to the former Chester Whitin Lasell estate on Hill Street, oversee its restoration, and open the historic mansion to weddings and other public events.
Their dream was dashed when the property owner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, backed out of the deal, and the couple believe it is because they are gay.
Beret said the diocese’s real estate broker sent them an email telling them their $75,000 deposit would be returned because the church wanted to pursue “other plans.’’
However, that email included a thread of messages, one from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan to the broker, which says: "I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop. Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they're shaky anyway. So, just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language."
Beret and Fairbanks have been together for 34 years and married in 2004. Beret is an attorney and Fairbanks has a master’s in administration.
The couple initially planned to purchase the entire 26-acre parcel, its mansion and smaller buildings for $1 million. A house inspection, paid for by Beret and Fairbanks, revealed that the run-down mansion would require about $500,000 in repairs, so they offered instead to purchase the mansion and six acres for $550,000, freeing up the cash they'd need to make the repairs.
That revised plan was suggested by the diocese’s broker, Beret said.
“We have the skills and the experience,” Beret said.
Beret and Fairbanks purchased a historic building in Brattleboro, VT in 1990 and converted that into an inn, which Fairbanks ran. They wanted to expand into weddings and other public events, but the venue was too small, so they purchased and restored a historic home in Barre, VT, Beret said.
“That first year, we had 45 events,’’ Beret said. “My business plan didn’t have that until year five. When we sold the business in 2004, we were hosting 60 weddings a year."
We were stunned,’’ by the church’s decision, Beret said. He said that after giving the church a deposit, paying for the home inspection, and meeting informally with town officials who seemed excited by the sale, they expected to be signing final papers soon.
The property most recently was being used by the church as a retreat. Prior to that it was the House of Affirmation where troubled priests were treated.
Beret said they have hired the Worcester law firm of Carvajal & Nielsen to look into whether legal action is appropriate.
The couple said they’ve lived quietly for 60 years. “We will not go quietly into the sunset’’ on this issue, Beret said.