See more of the story

On the morning an excavator’s claw began pulling down what was “part of my family’s soul,” the Rev. John Forliti said it’s time for hurt and angry neighbors and preservationists to move on from the demolition of the former St. Andrew’s Catholic Church.

“The time to heal has begun,” said the retired priest who grew up outside St. Andrew’s door. He officiated his first mass there in 1962 and still lives across the street. “Our neighborhood is too precious to do anything other than heal.”

For some, especially those who battled to save the 1927 building for more than a year, healing will take its own pace.

“We’re going to have to find our own ways,” said Bonnie Youngquist, photographing, and wiping away tears, as sections of the east wall came tumbling down. “The school cannot demand it.”

The start of demolition at Twin Cities German Immersion School in St. Paul’s Como Park on ­Tuesday was the emphatic end to a monthslong preservation fight that pitted neighbors against school leaders and families, some of whom moved to the area to be closer to the popular public charter school.

The school had used the old church building for several years as gymnasium, cafeteria and performance space. But the school’s board of directors decided more than a year ago that their 580-student school needed a larger and more modern building on the site.

That decision sparked an increasingly bitter battle in which both sides traded accusations on social media and in front of news cameras. Though the building hasn’t been a church since 2011, neighbors considered it a landmark worth preserving.

When a legal challenge was derailed by the state Court of Appeals a couple weeks ago, the long-debated teardown was inevitable.

Sometime Monday night, someone painted “Don’t Do It” in white on several pieces of heavy equipment at the site.

The next morning, neighbors watched from lawn chairs on Forliti’s yard across the street, taking pictures of the doomed structure.

School officials expect demolition to be complete by the end of the week and the new addition to be ready for students by fall 2020.

Ted Anderson, school director, admitted to having mixed emotions as demolition began — sadness over neighborhood divisions that may take years to salve and excitement for the educational possibilities of the new space. Twin Cities German Immersion expects to eventually enroll more than 620 students, mainly by retaining existing students as they move into higher grades.

Now, Anderson said, he hopes some can find a way to turn the page.

“To be open to reconciliation is key,” he said.

Tom Koppy, 80, watched from across an alley behind the school as the heavy equipment begin dismantling the site of many childhood memories.

He was baptized at St. Andrew’s, he said. His father was the longtime parish director. The demolition is sad, he said, “but the time to protest was when the archdiocese decided to sell the church” to the school in 2011.

“I hate to see it come down,” he said. “But, being practical, I can’t see how the school would be able to maintain it.”

Nearby, Youngquist continued snapping pictures — and dabbing at her eyes.

“This is very real now,” she said, as a gaping hole widened in the building’s side. “We tried so hard to save this.”