Parishioners of St. Brigid’s on Avenue B held a vigil today, but not inside their Roman Catholic Church that dates to 1848. Instead they were on the sidewalk, watching with dismay as a wrecking crew assembled scaffolding in a first step to taking the historic church down (see slideshow here). This comes two days after the chopping began at nearby P.S. 64, in another sign of the way a sizzling real estate market is remaking the Village landscape.
Lawyers for the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church, who recently lost their appeal of a lower court decision blocking their suit to stop the demolition, were in court Thursday morning even as the scaffolding went up, seeking a temporary halt to the project to allow an appeal of the both the court case and decisions by city agencies permitting the destruction. And onlookers who were concerned about whether the dust being kicked up by the work was harmful were on the phone to OSHA and the Department of Buildings. In early afternoon, a fire company showed up to check things out.
The Archdiocese of New York says the church was too unsafe to operate and too expensive to fix. It closed the church in 2001 after a large crack appeared on the back end of the building’s 8th Street side.
The fissure had been there for a while but widened because of construction in the area, parishioners say. After the closure, the parish lived in exile: Daytime services for the largely Latino congregation were moved to the parish school, while the smaller, nighttime English mass went to the parish school. But in 2004, the archdiocese disbanded the parish altogether—despite fundraising efforts by the congregation that amassed $103,000 toward repairing the church. That wasn’t enough to cover a repair job (which parishioners got a quote of $275,000 and the archdiocese at least twice that much), but the Committee is upset that the archdiocese is taking both their money and their church.
“It’s an abdication of fiduciary responsibility. It’s a way of gentrifying our community. It’s taking the heart out of neighborhood,” said Carolyn Ratcliffe, who began attending the church in 2000.
St. Brigid’s was started by Irish immigrants fleeing the famine. It served as a refuge to others over the years: People hurt in the Tompkins Square riots, the homeless, folks with drinking problems who went to AA.
“As a Catholic, I feel very disappointed in the archdiocese,” said City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who represents the area and attended the church. “They’ve forsaken us. It’s not about what the community needs, it’s about balancing their budget, and doing it irresponsibly.”