Holy union: St. Emeric’s merging with St. Brigid’s


BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  Members of the old St. Brigid’s and parishioners of St. Emeric’s Church will be worshiping together at a new Church of St. Brigid and St. Emeric this autumn when the restoration of St. Brigid’s on Avenue B is completed.

It has been a long wait for St. Brigid members. Their parish was dissolved in 2004. But it was then resurrected by an anonymous “angel” who donated $20 million to the New York Catholic Archdiocese in May 2008 to restore the deteriorated 1848 church building and endow its future maintenance.

The new parish will be created from the closing of St. Emeric’s Church, built in 1950 at 740 E. 13th St. at Avenue D, and the merging of the St. Brigid and St. Emeric parishes.

For many at St. Emeric, like Edwin Torres, who went to the church on Avenue D after St. Brigid’s, at 119 Avenue B, was closed, the change is really a homecoming.

President of the Committee to Save St. Brigid, Torres has been teaching youth confirmation classes at St. Emeric’s since he began worshiping there seven years ago.

“We had a graduation on Friday [June 15] for 22 students with Bishop Dennis Sullivan,” Torres said, adding that he plans to continue the classes at St. Brigid’s in the fall.

Joseph Zwilling, archdiocese spokesperson, said he hoped for a September opening of St. Brigid and St. Emeric but he was not able to give a definite date.

“But the church will have a rectory, which St. Emeric’s doesn’t have, and no debt,” Zwilling said.

Father Lorenzo Ato, priest in charge at St. Emeric for the past four years, will be the pastor of the new parish and has already moved into the rectory. Ato, a native of Peru, will also continue to serve as assistant director for Hispanic media for the archdiocese.

Zwilling said there was no decision yet on the disposition of the St. Emeric’s church building or the two-story parochial school built in 1952 next door on E. 12th St. and Avenue D.

“The first preference is always to see if another Catholic agency wants it,” Zwilling said.

A leased city preschool program is located on the second floor of the St. Emeric school building, and parish confirmation classes use space in the building. However, there is no longer a St. Emeric’s parochial elementary school.

Con Edison’s power plant virtually surrounds the St. Emeric property and the area currently has construction activity.

Down at St. Brigid’s, the parish elementary school has been operating since it was built in 1959 at the corner of Avenue B and E. Seventh St., and is expected to continue.

The church, at E. Eighth St. across from Tompkins Square Park, was designed by Patrick Keely, an Irish-born architect, and built during 1848-49 by Irish boatwrights from the East River boatyards.

Two original Gothic stone spires were dismantled in the mid-1960s, and other alterations over the years made the building an unlikely candidate for landmark designation.

In 1991, a significant crack in the church’s east wall had to be buttressed, and by June 2001, after a visit by then Archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan, the building was declared unsafe. Masses were then shifted to the school building’s basement cafeteria.

The archdiocese estimated the cost of restoring the 150-year-old building at $580,000. The parish, largely Hispanic for many years, organized the Committee to Save St. Brigid to raise the money. But $103,000 that was raised went to the parish’s general expenses.

Moreover, the archdiocese secured a building permit in 2003 to construct a five-story residence on the site, potentially as a new home for the Cabrini Nursing and Rehabilitation Center that was in rented space on E. Fifth St.

In 2004, the archdiocese closed the parish, but Save St. Brigid held demonstrations, marching from the East Village to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The committee also went to court to challenge the closing and preserve the building. However, the challenges failed.

The $20 million from the anonymous “angel” in May 2008 provided $10 million to fix serious structural problems and restore the church, plus $2 million for an endowment, and $8 million to support St. Brigid’s School and other Catholic schools in the area.

The angel remains anonymous, although Zwilling at the time said he was not Matt Dillon, who filmed in the church for his 2002 movie “City of Ghosts.”

St. Brigid of Kildare, who died in 524, was a founder with St. Patrick and St. Columba of Celtic Christianity. The daughter of a Druid and a slave, she became an abbess and was the patron saint of blacksmiths, boatmen and scholars.

St. Emeric (Americus in Latin), a son of King St. Stephen of Hungary, was killed at the age of 23 in 1031 by a wild boar during a hunt. Healings and Christian conversions that occurred at his grave led to his canonization in 1083 along with his father and his teacher Bishop Gerhard.