Nobody seems to know just how they went missing in the first place, but a lot of people are passionate about two copper and brass-clad doors that graced St. Mary's Church for decades.

A group of Butte Catholics with family ties to Irish neighborhoods that once surrounded St. Mary's — Muckerville, Corktown, and Dublin Gulch among them — desperately want the giant doors back as the main entrance to the old church at 440 N. Main St.

The church has been closed for years, but it's still dear to them, and so are those doors. They're more than 8 feet tall; 3 feet, 4 inches wide; and 2 inches thick of wood covered with copper and brass sheet metal with crosses on each.

Former Butte architect Mark Reavis and his wife, Nicole von Gaza Reavis, own the doors now and say they're worth $10,000. They're prepared to gift them back — if certain conditions are met.

They include promises to put the doors back, preserve them, and have a brass plaque affixed to the church acknowledging Reavis's 35 years of preservationist efforts in Butte.

"That is my last parting requirement for Butte," Reavis said this week from Silverton, Colorado, where he is now planning director.

His demands are not sitting well with some, but he says the doors were sold in cheap fashion years before he got them and he doesn't want anything like that happening again. He said he tried to keep the doors from being removed in the first place when he was the county's historic preservation officer years ago "and was basically given the finger."

"A lot of people in the Irish community say we're holding them for ransom, but we own the doors," he said. "The reason they left St. Mary's is they sold them at a yard sale."

The "they" he speaks of is the Our Lady of the Rockies Foundation, which bought the church in 1987 as a home for its office and souvenir shop to support the massive statue that sits atop the East Ridge.

Thirty years later, some of its members aren't sure when or how the doors left, but the organization still owns the church. It's been on the selling block for a few years now, however, and its fate is uncertain.

"We've had offers on it, but it has always been low-ball," said board member Jim Lynch, a past president of the foundation. "One lady wanted to make it a dance studio, one wanted to make it a concert hall, but nobody has ever come up with any money."

He'd like to see the county get it, perhaps in a trade, so the entire church is preserved.

The county is in the mix now, too, because the Butte-Silver Bow Archives agreed to take "temporary custody" of the doors in hopes an agreement about them is reached.

So for now, they're sitting in a storage room at the Archives at 17 W. Quartz St.

But Reavis is making it clear he still owns them, and if his conditions aren't met, he says he and his wife will hold onto them in perpetuity.

The last two lines of a two-page formal letter about the doors they submitted to Butte-Silver Bow commissioners and Chief Executive Dave Palmer say this:

"If compliance is not achieved the ownership of the doors will remain with the Reavis' (sic). Provisions for continued family ownership have been addressed in our wills."

THEIR LONG JOURNEY

St. Mary's was built in the early 1930s to replace a St. Mary's that burned down in August 1931. It is a towering building of red brick and stained glass on North Main Street just across from the Original Mine yard, which is now a performance venue.

St. Mary's is featured in many old photographs of Butte, including one that's the cover of "Butte's Irish Heart," a 2015 book about the Irish neighborhoods around it and the families who lived there.

The photograph shows hundreds of people outside the church when its cornerstone was put in, the crowd a testament to the focal point it was in the neighborhoods — religiously, educationally, and socially.

The doors were part of the building from the start, gracing the entrance under a giant arch of bricks, and were so tall and so solid it took five hinges on each to keep them affixed and swinging.

Although the church is still there, it was closed in 1985, long after most of the neighborhood houses had been carted away or demolished to make way for strip-mining.

"The doors are beautiful, and they belong on that historical building," said Debbie Bowman Shea, who helped organize a St. Mary's Committee and the first-ever reunion of the Irish neighborhoods held in September 2014.

The Lady of the Rockies Foundation bought the church in 1987 for its office and shop, but zoning laws and problems with electrical codes forced their closure not long afterward, and the office moved to the Butte Plaza Mall.

At some point the doors came off.

Reavis says it's his understanding the doors were sold at a yard sale by the Lady of the Rockies group and were transferred to other owners before he got them in a building purchase.

He said someone with the group also tried to sell some of the stained glass from the church when he was historic preservation officer, and though he didn't have legal authority to stop that move, his adamant objections helped prevent it.

"I said, 'If you sell this, you are selling something that a lot of people spent a lot of money in that community to get,'" Reavis said.

Mike Cerise, a foundation board member and one of the pioneers for the statue, says he recalls someone removing the doors and storing them only to have them go missing.

Shea says she had been told the doors were removed and replaced because they weren't heat efficient.

Tom Satterthwaite, a member of the St. Mary's Committee, said nobody seems to know for sure.

"It is one of those things that there are 15 different sides of the argument and the truth is probably in there somewhere, but I don't think it's necessarily in the middle," he said.

Reavis says the doors likely changed hands at least a couple of times, but regardless, they were in a building he and Nicole bought at 1 N. Montana St. as a home for their business, Urban Safari Tours, and its gift shop. They came with the purchase, he said.

The couple put one on vertical display, he said, and used the other as their gift shop counter where the cash register sat.

A lot of people remembered them, he said, and a developer from Big Sky once offered $10,000 for them. That's where he got that figure on their value, he said, but he wasn't selling.

WHAT NOW?

He's not interested in selling now, either, because he says he wants to see them back on the church. He has conditions, but given their recent past, said, "Why would I allow them to be put back without restrictions?"

His conditions include the following:

• The doors can only be reinstalled at the church and must be protected by specific restrictions spelled out in a property deed that carries forward with any future ownerships.

• The stained glass in the church must be protected by similar deed restrictions.

• The church as a whole must be protected with acknowledgements of that by the county's historic preservation officer and Council of Commissioners.

• A quality brass plaque must be commissioned and affixed to the church that acknowledges Mark Reavis's preservation efforts with the church and community for 35 years and that he and Nicole, as preservation advocates, have generously donated the doors to show their commitment to cultural resources.

Reavis says he's still willing to gift the doors back, despite recent grief he said he has taken and years of "getting beat up" for trying to preserve things in Butte.

"It's really an opportunity for the town to stop selling its history," he said.

Cerise said if Reavis cares only about the doors, he should simply give them back without demands for special recognition.

Lynch says the requirements seem fair and he would like to see the entire church preserved no matter what. Satterthwaite expressed similar sentiments.

"I guess he owns them as much as anybody," he said. "I don't know the legalities of the situation. I know it's complicated."

The St. Mary's group doesn't have much leverage over the doors' fate, he said, but it would be extremely gratifying "to see them back on the church where they belong."

Shea said getting the doors back on the church was the initial reason the St. Mary's group was formed. It branched into other efforts and projects, including the reunion and book, but its initial goal has not yet been achieved.

"I just want to see the doors back on there," she said. "If he needs to be validated with a plaque, so be it, but those doors do not belong anywhere but back on the front of that church."

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Government and politics reporter

Reporter with emphasis on government and politics.

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