According to an Archdiocese statement last week, St. Brigid’s will reopen as a parish church after its restoration. In addition to the $10 million for the church building, the donor also gave $8 million to help with St. Brigid’s School and other schools in the Catholic system and a further $2 million for the establishment of an endowment to help meet parishioners’ spiritual needs.
The landmark structure has been at the center of a high-profile 3-year battle between Archdiocese officials, who’d closed the church in 2001, and former parishioners and conservationists who wanted it saved. Prominent members of the Irish-American community — including writers, artists, actors and musicians — were amongst those who rallied to the St. Brigid’s cause.
“I’m thrilled. I couldn’t be more excited,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told the Irish Echo last Wednesday following a press conference in front of the church on Avenue B at 8th Street. “It’s the end of almost four years of work to save the this church.”
Describing it as a “David and Goliath struggle,” the city council speaker said that the campaign “created the atmosphere that compelled this extraordinary donation.”
Quinn said that St. Brigid’s symbolized the Irish immigrant experience. “It will remain as a testament to the blood, sweat and tears they gave to help build Manhattan,” she said.
The Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Chairman Ed Torres said at the press conference: “We rejoice today in the miracle that has saved our church. St. Brigid’s has long been a haven to those in need and it is altogether fitting that such a kind act of tremendous generosity would in turn safeguard her.
“This incredible gift not only enables us to preserve the traditions and spirit of St. Brigid’s founders, it also allows us to protect the traditions of religious freedoms, family and community that are the very fabric of this neighborhood and others throughout the city,” Torres added.
“It has been a hard and long fight to save St. Brigid’s and we are truly overjoyed. A great debt of gratitude is owned the donor whose exceeding generosity has made our dreams come true,” the committee chairman added.
“Every now and then, an event takes place that restores faith in the power of prayer and good intentions,” said the essayist and novelist Peter Quinn, whose family had close ties to the church over the generations. “This is one of those events. It’s almost too good to be true but, praise be to St. Brigid, it is true. The Committee to Save St. Brigid’s deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the fight they put up. Without them, there’d be no church to restore.”
Council Member Rosie Mendez, who was a parishioner before the church closed, said the East Village/Lower East Side neighborhood “has a history of perseverance and faith — many generations of immigrants have proven that,” and added, “It’s a Godsend that an anonymous donor, the church and the community have found a way to save this landmark building for generations to come.”
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said “St. Brigid’s has been the cornerstone of neighborhood for 150 years. I’d like to thank the Archdiocese for listening to our community and the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s for their tireless work.”
“I am absolutely ecstatic and want thank everyone who helped in whatever way to Save St. Brigid,” said Carolyn Ratcliffe, a founding member of the committee. “It is something that means so very much to many of us who loved the church and hated the thought of her not being here, be it neighborhood resident, parishioner, Irish American, history buff or whatever.
“The fact that this has happened is a testament to faith, believing in something, working to make it happen and continuing even when you were told repeatedly by so many that it could never happen that way,” Ratcliffe said.
Paul Dougherty, another St. Brigid’s advocate with close family ties to the church, said: “I’m eternally grateful to the benefactor and deeply grateful to the Archdiocese for taking this wise decision and to everyone who helped in the struggle.
“I’m hoping that in the run-up to the church reopening that Irish Americans interested in their roots and heritage engage this parish and neighborhood — either by contributing to a quality restoration or just going to Mass,” Dougherty said.
Meanwhile, the committee still has legal fees to pay and its planned fundraiser for Wednesday, June 18, will double as a celebration. It will take place at Connolly’s, 121 West 45th St., from 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.). Authors Pete Hamill, Malachy McCourt, Colm McCann, Thomas Kelly, Michael Patrick McDonald, Peter Quinn and Chris Kelly will read and the Ruffians and Joe Hurley will provide the music. Larry Kirwan will be master of ceremonies on the night.