Category: Archive

The common good (Second of two parts)

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

After shuttering the 1848-built St. Brigid’s Church in 2001 due to cracks in its back wall, the archdiocese condemned the building in 2005, slating it for redevelopment. Despite offers from philanthropists to renovate the Famine-era building, the demolition is still pending – and may even take place as early as the end of next week.
Some see money as a motivating factor in the church’s drive to close pre-Civil War churches.
“They can get high prices,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmark Conservancy, “But they pay a price in alienation of the congregants and the larger community.”
While proponents of saving St. Brigid’s offered alternatives to its demolition, their pleas fell on the archdiocese’s deaf ears.
“We spoke to them years ago now about sharing space, letting someone else use it. Why destroy [the building]?” she asked. “What’s troubling to so many people is that most of these buildings were built by sects other than the Catholics, so why aren’t they allowing another denomination to move in instead of seeing the buildings destroyed?
“If all of this were handled properly, [the church] would create a great sense of good will instead of the anger and puzzlement that they are creating,” Breen said.
When asked about how saving pre-Civil War buildings would benefit the archdiocese, she said, with a laugh: “They can get parishioners.”
According to Breen, the most viable future for older churches lies in establishing them as landmarks.
“With landmarking, the church can get listed on the national register. They become eligible for grant money,” she commented.
Breen sees the problem as dealing more with the neighborhood at large than just local Catholics.
“Long-time residents who can’t afford expensive condominiums are losing the sense of character and sense of place of their neighborhood,” she said. “It shows history and continuity and reminds you that other people have lived here and struggled ahead of you and managed to make it.”
A more forward-thinking stance, Breen claims, might be better for the church’s future than their current actions.
“The church of all institutions has to believe in the long haul. They need to think about being here centuries from now. If the church had faith in the city, you have to believe that the churches would fill again.”

Pre-Civil War churches
above Houston Street

Church of St. Columba
343 West 25th St.

Founded in 1845, the Church of St. Columba takes its name from one of Ireland’s most famous saints. The church is best known for its school, touted as having small class sizes and caring teachers. Tony Orlando and Whoopi Goldberg are among the former alumni of the school at St. Columba’s. The building is also quite impressive architecturally. “It’s a very handsome, very intact building,” said Ann-Isabel Friedman, the director of the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s sacred sites program. The terracotta school building complements the design of the church. “It’s an unusual ensemble because the rectory and the school are both in a row,” Friedman continued.

Church of the Most Holy Redeemer
173 East Third St.

This church is one of many examples of the constantly evolving social history of Catholicism in New York City. The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer originally served a German community; now it caters to a Spanish-speaking population. A “Mr. Walsh” was the structure’s original architect. “At construction in 1851, it was a very grand, baroque, cathedral-looking building,” Friedman said. “But it was renovated, and the interior was altered in 1913.” Architect Paul Schulz also added many improvements to the building’s exterior during this 1913 renovation. A new fa

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