St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church (Manhattan)
St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, also known as St. Brigid's or Famine Church, is a church located at 123 Avenue B, on the southeast corner of East 8th Street, along the eastern edge of Tompkins Square Park in the Alphabet City section of the East Village of Manhattan, New York City. Associated with the church is a parish school, Saint Brigid School, consisting of grades Pre-K through 8, which has been in existence since 1856.
The church is named after St. Brigid, the patron saint of babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle, chicken farmers, children whose parents are not married, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, Ireland, mariners, midwives, nuns, poets, printing presses, scholars and travellers. Like the neighborhood it serves, Saint Brigid's Church has had a colorful and tumultuous history since its beginnings in 1848.
Throughout its history, St. Brigid's opened its doors to people who were more accustomed to having them shut in their new city. Beginning with its construction by Irish immigrants, the church accepted whoever showed up in its pews, even as the East Village changed from German to Irish to Puerto Rican to whoever landed on its doorsteps, in whatever shape. A special feature of the New York Times in 1901, mentioned the church among other Catholic structures in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, describing the group "for the most part...limit[ing] themselves to the functions of a parish church, in districts where social needs are otherwise supplied." Clarifying that the upper church was Irish and the basement used by Italians. In addition, the Sisters of Charity had a convent next door to the church, and there was an attached parochial school.
Fr. Mooney and Bull Run
The second pastor of the church, the Reverend Thomas Mooney, also served as pastor to the nearby 69th New York State Militia. Upon its formation in 1851 it was called the 2nd Regiment of Irish Volunteers, a citizen-militia made up of Irish-Catholic diaspora from the Great Irish Famine. In 1860, Michael Corcoran, Colonel of the 69th, refused to parade them past the Prince of Wales to protest the British response to the famine. Father Mooney travelled with the 69th to Virginia and was beloved by the men for his spirit and sagacious counsel. Fr.Mooney held daily Masses for the regiment and served as confessor for the largely Catholic regiment. The regimental choir was headed by Capt. Maxwell O'Sullivan, formerly the choirmaster at St. Brigid's church. Mooney was lauded for his establishment of a temperance society and for encouraging many wayward souls to return to the Faith.
Father Mooney was recalled by New York Archbishop John "Dagger" Hughes in response to Mooney's baptism of a 64 lb. Columbiad cannon. Archbishop Hughes later suggested that Mooney was recalled after climbing the flagstaff of Fort Corcoran. Mooney was in the process of straightening an American flag that became stuck during a flag raising ceremony. Mooney's return was much bemoaned by the men of the regiment, but Mooney was warmly welcomed on his return to the city by 4,000 parishioners assembled in Tompkins Square. When the 69th returned to New York following the Bull Run Campaign, Mooney marched at the head of the regiment. On August 14, 1861 a Requiem Mass was held for the men of the 69th NYSM who had been killed in action. The St. Brigid's choir sang Mozart's Requiem during the service. Fr. Mooney was conspicuously present at all future Irish Brigade functions and was much beloved by the men who survived to remember him.
Fr. Kuhn and the riots
During the 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot, the church allowed homeless advocates and protesters of the police action to mobilize under its roof. A year later, when a shantytown in the park was dismantled, church pastor Rev. George Kuhn led a group of parishioners taking food to protesters and homeless people holed up in an abandoned school on East 4th Street. Father Kuhn was arrested when he defied orders to not cross a police line to deliver the food, saying, "I'm working under orders, too. The order I have is to feed the hungry, and that comes from a higher authority." St. Brigid's Church served as a place for protesters to organize and receive medical attention during the riot.
Closure and partial demolition
The church's main building closed in 2001 because of a crack in the structure. Mass was then held in the adjoining school while the parishioners rallied to raise money to save the church.
In September 2003, the Archdiocese of New York filed with the city an application to convert the church into apartments, but an archdiocese spokesperson said was only protecting its options. In September 2004 the Archdiocese disbanded the parish. The announcement of St. Brigid's closing with only two weeks notice was handled by the vicar general, rather than Cardinal Egan, and without taking questions. In 2006 they began to demolish the church, stating: "It's a hazard. It could have literally fallen over at any point in time." At that time, the spokesperson for the Archdiocese further insisted the property would not be turned into condominiums or apartments, as nearby St. Ann's Church had been when it was converted into a dormitory for New York University. The church claimed that there is no interest in selling the property. "It will be used for some other form of ministry, whether for educational or charitable or healthcare purposes, possibly senior housing," said a spokesperson for the archdiocese. Some criticized the Archdiocese for what New York Times columnist Dan Barry called its "tone-deaf" handling of parishioner and community concern.
Earlier in 2006, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Kapnick ruled against the Committee to Save St. Brigid's (CSSB) and allowed plans for demolition to proceed. In June, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division upheld that decision, Then in August Kapnick agreed to hear a separate suit in which the CSSB asserted that ownership and right to demolish are invalid due to the lack of a five-person board of trustees (including two parishioners) governing the church as required by New York law. The archdiocese said it convened such a board, in a single meeting on July 18, where it agreed on demolition. The archdiocese also pointed out that the city did not question the church's ownership when they filed the building permits for demolition.
On July 26, 2006, Judge Barbara Kapnick declined to halt demolition plans, but asked lawyers on both sides to appear in her courtroom to hear arguments on the building's ownership. Before those arguments were to take place, a demolition crew arrived and demolished the stained glass windows and remaining pews, knocked an eight-foot hole into one wall and erected scaffolding. The seven 25-foot-tall, painted, stained-glass windows depicted Jesus’ life and bore the names of victims of the Great Irish Famine and benefactors of the church. Community leaders mobilized that afternoon, among them St. Brigid's parishioner and City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, then-Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Martin Connor, and Assemblywoman Sylvia Friedman, who made statements denouncing the demolition and accusing the Archdiocese of greed during an overheated real estate market. A spokesperson for the Archdiocese said the demolition had nothing to do with money, again pointing out that there are no designs to sell the property.
On August 24, 2006, Justice Kapnick extended an order staying the demolition of the church.
On May 22, 2008, the Archdiocese of New York announced it had received an “unexpected but very welcome gift” of $20 million from an anonymous donor after a private meeting with Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the archbishop of New York. The gift includes $10 million to restore the building itself; $2 million to establish an endowment for the parish “so that it might best meet the religious and spiritual needs of the people living in the community”; and $8 million to support St. Brigid’s School and other Catholic schools in need. Cardinal Egan further said in a statement: “This magnificent gift will make it possible for Saint Brigid’s Church to be fittingly restored with its significant structural problems properly addressed. The two additional gifts, to create an endowment for the parish and to support the parish school, are a powerful testament to the donor’s goodness and understanding. He has my heartfelt gratitude, as I recently told him at a meeting in my residence.”
On January 27, 2013, worshipers, including descendants of some of the original Irish parishioners, gathered as Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan consecrated and dedicated the newly renovated building.
The Rev. Thomas Mooney, pastor of St. Brigid's, founded the school in 1856, eight years after the founding of the parish, in the mostly Irish immigrant section of what was then called the Lower East Side. The school building was built and dedicated in 1858 and was located on 8th Street between Avenues B and C. The Christian Brothers taught the boys of the school and the Sisters of Charity taught the girls. By 1879, the enrollment averaged 800 boys and 1,000 girls. Soon after the founding of the school, Fr. Mooney asked the Sisters of Charity to open St. Brigid's Academy on 10th Street, an "excellent select school" with an average enrollment of 200 students.
By 1934, the conditions of the school building had become poor. Because of the Great Depression, the school was forced to closed. By the Post War Period of the 1950s, the parish population increased prompting the building of a new school building at 7th Street between Avenue B and C. The new building opened on September 12, 1954 with an enrollment of 124 students under the direction of the Sisters of Charity. The building was solemnly dedicated and blessed on November 6, 1955 by Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York. The old school building was demolished in 1970.
By the 1990s, the school was ailing: attendance had plummeted from 200 students to 74 in two years, and the number of teachers fell from nine to five. Father Kuhn, who was the church's pastor at the time, attributed it to local poverty. However, others in the community reported as the cause anger by some local parents at Father Kuhn because in a dispute over direction and control of the parish school he fired the popular principal, Maureen Delaney, and three teachers in the middle of the school year. In the 1990s, the Sisters of Charity relinquished their ministry of the school.
A spokeswoman for the Schools of the Archdiocese of New York stated in 1995: "The Cardinal believes very much in the school. We are all operating on the premise that St. Brigid will be with us for a while." From 1995, the parish and school were staffed by the Trinitarians until the closing of the parish church in 2004.
As of 2010, the school enrolls about 120 students. Since September 2013, the principal of the school has been Stephen Hernon.
- St. Nicholas Kirche, another church in the East Village that was destroyed in the 1960s
- The World Almanac 1892 and Book of Facts (New York: Press Publishing, 1892), p.390.
- Catholic Forum website profile on St. Brigid
- Remigius Lafort, S.T.D., Censor, The Catholic Church in the United States of America: Undertaken to Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness, Pope Pius X. Volume 3: The Province of Baltimore and the Province of New York, Section 1: Comprising the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, Buffalo and Ogdensburg Together with some Supplementary Articles on Religious Communities of Women.. (New York City: The Catholic Editing Company, 1914), p.319.
- David Scharfenberg, "Coming Back to Fight for the Church of Their Ancestors", The New York Times, June 18, 2006, Section 14, Page 6.
- Sarah Ferguson, "Secret Angel Still Wants to Save St. Brigid's", The Village Voice, August 3, 2006, via VillageVoice.com
- "Centres of Civilization; On the Lower East Side of New York", New York Times, Jul 21, 1901. Excerpt: “Everybody who read it must have been struck by a remark of Mr. Hewitt's, made not very long ago, touching the tenement house district, which was considerably commented on in the press. The remark was that it was not only the part of humanity and charity for the more favored to assist the less favored, but that in this particular case, it was not less the part of prudence…..St. Nicholas in Second Street, St. Rose of Lima in Cannon Street, and St. Teresa in Henry Street. There is also a remarkable church, remarkable for the ...””
- O'Flaherty, Rev. Patrick. History of the 69th New York State Militia. Doctoral Dissertation. Fordham University. New York. 1963.
- George James, "Ward is Critical of Police in Clash", The New York Times, August 11, 1988; Section A, Page 1.
- Jake Mooney, "When the Bell Tolls", The New York Times, March 20, 2005, Section 14, Page 1.
- Anderson, Lincoln (31 January 2013). "It's a real miracle on Avenue B as St. Brigid’s Church reopens". The Villager. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
- Sarah Ferguson, "St. Brigid's: Archdiocese Says No Condos", The Village Voice, July 27, 2006, via VillageVoice.com.
- Dan Barry, A Prayer For a Church Unsaved, The New York Times, July 30, 2006; Section B, Page 1.
- Peter McDermott, "Windows Smashed; Demolition Halted", The Irish Echo, August 23–29, 2006, via IrishEcho.com.
- Michael Luo, "Demolition Starts at Historic Catholic Church in East Village", The New York Times, July 28, 2006; Section B, Page 2.
- Sarah Ferguson, "St. Brigid's Gets 2nd Reprieve", August 24, 2006, via VillageVoice.com.
- Chan, Sewell "Donor Gives $20 Million to Revive a Historic Church", May 22, 2008 The New York Times
- See also The New York Landmarks Conservancy, "Sacred Sites: Historic Catholic Churches in Crisis" (Retrieved 5 May 2011).
- "A Sketch of the History of St. Bridget's Church," Catholic News, 1877.
- St. Brigid's School: Illuminating the East Village, 2008.
- Monte Williams, "As Pontiff Visits, An Ailing School is Seeking Hope", The New York Times, October 8, 1995; Section 13, Page 6.
- Lambert, Bruce (1993-11-07). "Dismissals Divide a Parish". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
Nora Murphy, an archdiocese spokeswoman, said that [Dr. Catherine Hickey, the Catholic schools superintendent] upheld the actions of the pastor, the Rev. George J. Kuhn. She said that the dismissals -- of Maureen Delaney, Debra Condon, Monica Medina and Angela Gallombardo — stemmed mostly from a lack of student discipline, specifically at a Mass that students disrupted. She also said that some of the faculty "were fomenting the problem" — a charge they denied...Father Kuhn refused to comment on the dismissals...Elizabeth Acevedo, an organizer of the newly formed St. Brigid's Parent Coalition for Justice, said that "continual harassment and emotionally abusive tactics used by Father George" were destroying the 200-pupil school.
- "St. John’s University Assists New York City Parochial School". Stjohns.edu. 2006-05-25. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
- "St. John’s Partnership with Local Elementary School Yields Higher Test Scores". Stjohns.edu. 2006-12-27. Retrieved 2010-06-11.