Volume 75, Number 46 | April 5 - 11 2006

Villager photo by Bob Kreizel

Villager photo by Gary He

Top, Reverend Donald Gannon, pastor of The Church of the Nativity on E. Second St., and parishoners Chuck Van Buren and Jamie Pate. Van Buren has been worshiping at Nativity for the past year but will probably go to Most Holy Redeemer on E. Third St. if Nativity closes. Pate is one of the managers at the church’s Saturday soup kitchen, one of the social services that will be impacted by the closings. Bottom, St. Veronica’s Church on Christopher St. is planned to become a mission of the Our Lady of Guadelupe/St. Bernard’s parish.

Wave of church, school closings saddens parishioners and parents

By Albert Amateau

It’s common wisdom that when a loved one dies it’s a deep shock even when the death is long expected.

Such was the shock for many Catholic parishioners and parish school parents last week when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York made the formal declaration of plans to close or merge 31 parishes and 14 schools in the seven counties in its jurisdiction.

For some parishes and schools in the South Manhattan region of the archdiocese, the March 28 announcement of the second phase of a diocesan realignment was a formal reminder of losses they suffered over the past several years.

St. Brigid’s parish, centered at St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B and E. Eighth St., was dissolved in 2004, and some parishioners are fighting to save the 1849 building.

Our Lady of Guadelupe on W. 14th St. moved one block west into St. Bernard’s Church building between Eighth Ave. and Hudson St. several years ago and St. Bernard’s elementary school on W. 13th St. closed after Sept. 11, 2001.

In the West Village, the announced conversion last week of St. Veronica’s on Christopher St., where an AIDS memorial is located, into a chapel of Our Lady of Guadelupe, was only a reshuffling, because St. Veronica had been functioning as a mission of St. Bernard’s Church.

But the announced closing of St. Joseph’s School on Washington Pl. in the heart of the Village — even as the parish was raising funds for its bicentennial campaign and the school was celebrating its 150th anniversary — was indeed a shock to parents and for some it felt like a betrayal.

“How do you do this to kids?” said Adelaide Montero, a born-and-bred Villager whose two daughters are among the 140 pupils in the parish K-8 school. “It’s already too late to register for next September. P.S. 41 and P.S. 3 are full already,” Montero said, referring to two well-regarded Village public schools.

More than 100 parents turned up at a Thurs. March 30 meeting at St. Joseph’s School with Donna Gabella, St. Joseph’s principal for the last eight years and also a former teacher at the school. Gabella told anxious and emotional parents that she would be among a delegation of eight people, including at least one St. Joseph’s School parent, to meet with education officials at the archdiocese headquarters to plead St. Joseph’s cause

The delegation must come up with a financial plan and an enrollment campaign that would keep St. Joseph’s viable as a parish school. If the group fails to convince diocesan education officials by April 24, the building on Washington Pl. just west of the church will close for a year for reconstruction and open again in 2008 as a “private academy for gifted students,” according to the archdiocesan plan.

“We fear that such a transformation would exclude the majority of our working-class families from an affordable yet high quality education for their children,” said Kathy Tuzo, whose two sons, now grown, attended St. Joseph’s School. Coincidentally, her son, Jonathan Tuzo, a vocal student at Manhattan School of Music who first sang in public while at St. Joseph’s, sang the lead tenor part at an April 4 concert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“Without the financial or moral support of Cardinal Egan and the archdiocese, St. Joseph’s [School] will be forced to close its doors after 150 years,” said Tuzo.

The threat of closing hung over St. Joseph’s School in the early 1990s shortly before Gabella became principal. According to Montero, Gabella recently explored the possibility of a merger with Mary Help of Christians School on E. 12th St. But the archdiocese realignment calls for closing Mary Help of Christians parish as well as the school.

“We don’t even have the option of joining another school,” Montero said.

The morning after the parents met with Gabella, Father John McGuire, pastor of St. Joseph’s parish, also met with a smaller group and told them the archdiocese would like to see a strong commitment to the school. He said parents could register now, as a sign of their commitment, for the 2006 fall term without paying a registration fee.

But parents who attended the 9 a.m. meeting on March 31 said they found little hope for the school.

The diocesan restructuring also proposes to close Our Lady of Sorrows School on Stanton St. between Ridge and Pitt Sts.

In Chelsea, Guardian Angel Church on 10th Ave. at 21st St. is to function as a mission of St. Columba’s Church on W. 25th St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves., and Guardian Angel School is to merge with St. Columba School.

The Church of the Nativity on E. Second St. and Second Ave., where Dorothy Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker movement, took Mass 50 years ago, will also close as part of the restructuring.

The radical changes are driven by the shortage of priests and a demographic shift of Catholics from Manhattan to the archdiocese’s northern reaches where several new churches are planned, according to the hierarchy’s realignment document. The archdiocese covers Staten Island, Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam Counties.

The real estate consequences of the changes have not been made clear, but private redevelopment seems likely in many cases. Catholic Church finances have been threatened by payments to settle lawsuits filed by victims of priestly pedophile abuse. According to figures published last week in the Wall Street Journal, $467 million was paid last year to settle such claims and there are more than 783 “credible” lawsuits pending.

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