Volume 75, Number 10 | July 27 - Aug. 2, 2005

St. Brigid’s gets a reprieve, but loses its organ

By Albert Amateau

The demolition reprieve for St. Brigid’s Church was extended on Mon. July 25 at least until the lawsuit brought by the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York is transferred to another section of State Supreme Court.

Harry Kresky, attorney for the St. Brigid’s committee, told committee members on Monday that he had asked the archdiocese to agree to a one-year moratorium on demolition, during which time the committee would try to raise the more than $500,000 needed to stabilize the 1848 building.

However, lawyers for the archdiocese refused the moratorium and insisted on the right to demolish the building at 119 Avenue B.
The lawsuit originally named the Department of Buildings as a co-defendant with the archdiocese and was assigned to State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman who sits on cases involving city agencies. Stallman granted the temporary ban on demolition pending the Monday hearing; but because the Department of Buildings had to be dropped from the suit — because demolition permits have not yet been issued — the case is to be reassigned to another judge later this week.

The demolition ban remains in effect until a new judge takes charge of the case and sets a new hearing.

But St. Brigid’s supporters were more concerned about the stealthy removal on Wed. July 20 of the organ and other furnishings from the church at 119 Avenue B at E. Eighth St., which had been closed by the archdiocese in 2001 because a crack in the east wall made the building unstable.

Edwin Torres, a founder of the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s, was summoned to the church around noon on Wednesday by watchful neighbors who saw a white truck with New Jersey license plates pull into the rear of the church from the E. Eighth St. side.

“They had a 40-foot truck and made a U-turn in the yard behind the school next to the church to get it out of sight when I tried to take a picture,” Torres said. He then went to a neighbor’s back yard to take a photo but an attendant on the truck and a caretaker of the church put up a plywood panel to block the view. “I got a 20-foot ladder from the neighbor and was able to get pictures of them loading parts of the organ and other things onto the truck,” Torres said.

“They were really angry that I was taking pictures,” said Torres, who noted that on July 21, the caretaker had put up another plywood barrier at the sidewalk on Avenue B at a passage between the St. Brigid’s rectory and the school building.

The July 20 removal was not the first. Stained glass windows and other furnishings had been removed over the past year from the church, built in 1848 by immigrant Irish boatwrights who worked on the East River. Since the building was closed to worshippers more than four years ago, Masses had been celebrated in the adjacent school building on Avenue B and E. Seventh St.

But in September of last year, the archdiocese dissolved the parish because a dwindling Catholic population in the neighborhood could not support the church.

The suit two weeks ago to prevent the archdiocese from demolishing the building was the latest move among parishioners, now mostly Hispanic, who want to preserve the building and revive their parish.

The parish closing was part of a realignment, still underway, of parishes in the New York Catholic Archdiocese, which includes Staten Island, Manhattan, the Bronx and seven counties to the north.

Driven by financial problems and demographic changes, the realignment has strengthened parishes north of the city and closed or merged Manhattan parishes, including St. Ann’s on E. 11th St. and Our Lady of Guadalupe on W. 14th St., as well as St. Brigid’s.

Joseph Zwilling, archdiocese spokesperson, said last week he was confident that the suit would be dismissed. “We have every right to proceed with the demolition,” he said, adding, “We’re in the process of getting a demolition permit.”

Zwilling said the archdiocese had not yet decided what would replace the church building. In March 2004, the archdiocese secured an alteration permit to gut the church building and convert it into apartments with 29 units. But a demolition permit application indicates that plan has been dropped.

St. Brigid’s school building, on E. Seventh St. and Avenue B, is not involved in the demolition application, Zwilling said. The St. John’s College education department now runs the school.

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