Mass exodus at Southbridge: Church services end

St. Andrew, at 20 Cardinal Hayes Pl. near City Hall has potential to grow its parish with several residential units going up around  it. Downtown Express photo by Mia Rupani
St. Andrew at 20 Cardinal Hayes Pl. near City Hall has potential to grow its parish with several residential units going up around it. Downtown Express photo by Mia Rupani

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC The recent reorganization of Catholic parishes throughout the New York region and in Lower Manhattan has included the discontinuation of Mass at Southbridge Towers.

“People are upset about it,” said John Fratta, a longtime Southbridge resident and former chairperson of Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee.

Around 15 years ago, Fratta recalled, Mass was being held at St. Margaret’s on Fulton St., but it was mostly attended by Southbridge residents. The service then moved to the complex’s community room to make it accessible for those with mobility or other issues.

“However, that Mass has grown from people who can’t attend because of their handicap or their age to well-abled people,” said Fratta. “It became a Mass of convenience, not a Mass of necessity.”

The cardinal said he wanted that practice stopped because he feels that Mass should be held inside a church, Fratta explained in a phone interview. On July 31, Mass at Southbridge ended.

The next day, several churches were merged in the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and seven Upstate counties as part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York’s “Making All Things New” initiative. This meant that many churches, almost 40, as the New York Times reported, have been closed. An anticipated shortage of priests and less parishioners had led to the restructuring.

The archdiocese declined to comment for this article.

In Lower Manhattan, Our Lady of Victory, at 60 William St., merged with the Church of St. Andrew, at 20 Cardinal Hayes Pl. St. Peter’s Church at 22 Barclay St. also merged with Our Lady of Rosary at 7 State St. All will continue to have Mass.

Fratta goes every Sunday to Our Lady of Victory and is a trustee of the church.

“We know that there were people that used to come to Our Lady of Victory that decided you know what, it’s easier coming out of your building going into the community room having Mass and your fulfilling your religious obligation,” he said.

Our Lady of Victory is trying to come up with a way to accommodate people who are unable to make it to church, he said. Reverend Monsignor Marc J. Filacchione, now at the helm of the merged parish, is considering having a Eucharistic minister, a layperson, help administer communion for those who can’t get to church, Fratta said.

There is also the possibility that a service may take place once a month (or more frequently) at Southbridge, and that confession may be offered there as well, said Fratta.

“That way we are reaching the ones that really can’t make to church,” he said.

People with disability or mobility issues also have the option to watch the Mass on television, said Fratta.

Rev. Msgr. Filacchione was unavailable for comment.

Fratta did not know when these services would start.

“Right now, there’s all these changes that are taking place with the new merger between the two parishes, it’s definitely going to happen, but I don’t know when,” he said. “I think right now we’re trying to get through the merger.”

Around 18 months before the reorganization, churches were put into clusters and asked for recommendations, Fratta said. Our Lady of Victory, St. Peter’s Church, St. Andrew and Our Lady of the Rosary were grouped together.

The committee recommended that St. Andrew, Our Lady of Victory and St. Peter’s remain single parishes. Our Lady of the Rosary would be united with Our Lady of Victory, said Fratta. The cardinal decided something differently, he said.

“We really were winners in this that we didn’t lose any church,” said Fratta. “These other neighborhoods that lost churches, those people are really very angry and rightly so.”

All of the churches will be reevaluated after two years, he said.

Fratta said they are urging people to go to St. Andrew. The church, which is near City Hall, has potential, he explained, with all the residential units that are going up.

“If the archdiocese sees in two years that the numbers still haven’t gone up, they could possibly close the church and that’s something that we definitely don’t want to happen,” he said.

He had an example: St. Joseph’s Church, which closed after 90 years, at 5 Monroe St. on the Lower East Side.

“[It] was a crime losing that church,” he said. “You hate when they close churches but unfortunately that seems to be the reality today.”