For most people, Catholic churches and college fraternity houses evoke images and connotations that could not possibly be more different.

In an unprecedented transaction, a chapter of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity located at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy is currently under contract with the Albany Diocese to purchase the recently closed St. Francis de Sales Church and rectory in Troy.

According to Noel Olsen, director of real property for the Diocese, the fraternity approached the diocese as an interested buyer before the church officially closed Feb. 1. 

The Diocese continued to list the building on the market as planned, allowing for offers from other potential buyers, but ultimately awarded the contract to Phi Sigma Kappa.

Keeping in mind the stereotypes typically associated with college fraternities, Mr. Olsen said the Diocese checked carefully into the fraternity's history and standings. 

"We did a considerable amount of research," he said, adding that the fraternity is "dry," meaning that it prohibits alcohol in the chapter house. 

Diocesan officials held several meetings with current fraternity brothers to discuss their intentions for the building, and to ensure "they were going to use it [in a way that] is respectful of the Church."

The fraternity brothers plan to live in the rectory while using the church building for meals, meetings and social functions. They also promised to make the building available to the community for meetings and events.

The RPI chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa consists of 12 undergraduate members. 

According to their information materials, their chapter has been ranked in the top 10 percent of Greek fraternities at RPI for the past several years. 

Information from the fraternity also notes that its property and school taxes, as well as the fraternity's consumer presence in the neighborhood, will contribute to the local economy.

Additionally, fraternity members pledge to perform 20 hours of community service each year. The fraternity brothers expressed interest in participating in community groups in their new neighborhood, including the Friends of Prospect Park. 

Phi Sigma Kappa is currently without a chapter house at RPI. They say they are "committed to preserving the architecture and maintaining the [St. Francis de Sales] property."

On Aug. 6, the fraternity held a community open house at the church building to discuss concerns with the public, including former parishioners at St. Francis de Sales. 

Said Mr. Olsen: "From our standpoint, we were satisfied that it was an unusual but good use for the church."

Editor's note: By the end of Called to be Church, the diocesan realignment of parishes, 33 churches will close and most of their buildings sold. In recent decades, others have already been converted by new owners to shelters, schools, treatment programs and Protestant churches. The Evangelist will periodically profile some of these buildings in their new lives.