St. Brigid parishioners appeal demolition ruling

By Albert Amateau

Despite the scaffolding erected over the sidewalk along the side of St. Brigid’s Church last week, former parishioners and East Village neighbors who are trying to preserve the 1849 church building believe that the walls won’t come tumbling down — at least not yet.

Harry Kresky, attorney for the Committee to Save St. Brigid, said on Tuesday that the Catholic Archdiocese of New York has agreed to hold off on demolition until the committee has a chance to appeal a Jan. 31 Supreme Court decision that essentially allows the archdiocese to demolish the historic building.

“We have until April 15 to file papers for a June Appellate Division term when we can ask for another stay,” said Kresky.

Joseph Zwilling, archdiocese spokesperson, said on Tuesday that the archdiocese has asked the appeal to be expedited, but he insisted no decision has been made yet about the future of the church property on Avenue B between E. Seventh and Eighth Sts.

“We put up the scaffolding for the safety of passersby because the church building is a hazard,” Zwilling said.

But Edwin Torres, a former parishioner and member of the committee that has been trying to prevent the archdiocese from demolishing the church, said, “We feel the scaffolding is a form of intimidation.”

The church building was declared unsafe and closed because of a crack in the east wall at the rear of the building in 2001 when worship was shifted to the parish school on E. Seventh St. and Avenue B. But in September 2004, the Trinitarian Order, whose priests ran the parish, decidied to pull out and Cardinal Edward Egan dissolved the parish. Worshipers went to Most Holy Redeemer on E. Third St. and to other nearby Catholic parishes.

Nevertheless, the St. Brigid committee sued the archdiocese and called for saving the building, designed in 1848 by the Irish-American architect Patrick Keely and built by Irish boat builders who worked on the East River.

Kresky argued on behalf of the committee that only the parish board of trustees could decide on whether to demolish the building and that since St. Brigid’s board of trustees had not existed for years, the archdiocese had no authority to make the decision. However, the archdiocese may reconstitute a board of trustees comprised of three priests and two lay members when it makes the final decision to tear the building down.

Between 2001 and 2004, St. Brigid parishioners raised $103,000 to preserve the building, but the archdiocese said it would take more than $500,000 to make the building usable.

The St. Brigid property includes the church rectory adjacent to the historic church and the school building on E. Seventh St. Built in 1959, the school has been run for the past two years by the archdiocese in conjunction with St. Joseph’s College Department of Education. Zwilling said the archdiocese has not decided on the future of the school.

Parishioners and neighbors are still hopeful that St. Brigid’s will survive. “We still have the appeal, and there is public pressure,” said Carolyn Ratcliffe, a neighbor active in the St. Brigid committee.

“St. Brigid is an icon for the neighborhood and people are realizing what it would mean to the community if it were taken away. And the archdiocese will have to listen and rethink its decision for this parish,” Ratcliffe said.

In related news, Father John McGuire of the Catholic Center at N.Y.U. and St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Ave. and Washington Pl. tipped off The Villager that a major restructuring is set to take place.

“The archdiocese is going to announce the closure of churches and schools and that will affect some places in Lower Manhattan,” McGuire said. “That’s going to be a big story.”