Volume 75, Number 9 | July 20- 26, 2005


Don’t sacrifice St. Brigid’s to bottom line

The Catholic Archdiocese is seeking demolition permits for St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B.

Last Sunday’s rally by the church’s former parishioners is just one of the many that have been held since the archdiocese announced plans last year to dissolve the parish, which did occur last Sept. 15, when the last Mass at St. Brigid’s was celebrated. Congregants have twice marched up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral seeking an audience with Cardinal Egan, to no avail.

St. Brigid’s most recently served a thriving congregation of 400 families, mostly Latino. The church was built by Irish boatwrights in the mid-19th century and was designed by noted Irish-born architect Patrick Keely. It has served successive waves of immigrants from many ethnic groups and served generations of Lower East Siders. Its steeples were removed 40 years ago and its facade has seen some alterations, but we don’t see why this should keep it from being landmarked, especially given its immensely rich history.

The Catholic Archdiocese closed the church based on the fact that a large crack on its eastern wall needs repair and the fact that the congregation is not quite as large as it once was.

The archdiocese estimates repairs to the wall would cost $580,000, though the congregants commissioned their own estimate, which yielded a figure half that amount.

Last week, the congregants filed a lawsuit to stop the demolition, which has been stayed by a judge pending a July 25 hearing. At issue in the suit, congregants raised more than $100,000 toward the repairs, yet $30,000 of this was funneled into the church’s operating costs before the parish was dissolved.

Raising half a million dollars would require a spirited fundraising effort and is not unattainable.

Also driving the move to close St. Brigid’s is the archdiocese’s own financial problems — in the face of lawsuits — as well as the city’s changing demographics. Initially, the plan was to gut the church and create a Cabrini hospice or apartments. But now that demolition permits are being sought, the assumption is the archdiocese wants to sell the property to a private developer.

In short, we wonder if this parish was picked for phasing out because of its prime location — on the west side of Tompkins Square Park. So far, Tompkins Square Park, save for the Christadora House — a former so-called “vertical settlement house” — has avoided the fate of Washington Square Park, which is surrounded by large buildings on three sides, the latest monoliths on Washington Square South courtesy of N.Y.U. New development on the St. Brigid’s site would start this process at Tompkins Square.

This all begs the question: did the Catholic Archdiocese give sufficient thought to the impact that closing and demolishing St. Brigid’s would have? The church’s significant history — more than most other parishes in the city — active congregation and sensitive location are all reasons why it should not be demolished, and should, in fact, be allowed to keep operating as a church, or at least as another community-friendly use in the tradition of service to the neighborhood.

If cost-cutting is needed, we’re sure there are many better places to do it. St. Brigid’s shouldn’t be sacrificed to the bottom line.

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