Tall tower of East Side ‘cathedral’ gets a facelift


By Albert Amateau

The 232-ft.-tall tower of Most Holy Redeemer Church on E. Third St., encased in scaffolding for more than a year, will come out into full view this week at the completion of a major renovation.

The church and its tower, the tallest structure in the East Village, date from 1852 and the parish itself was founded in 1844 by the Roman Catholic Redemptorist Order to serve a neighborhood that was predominantly German. Indeed, when the present church was first built next to the original building, it was known as “The German Cathedral of the Lower East Side.”

Completion of the tower project is a happy occasion for Father Lenin Delgado, pastor since 1991. “Lenin is a strange name for a Catholic priest,” a recent visitor remarked.

“Yes, my father was a Communist,” Delgado replied with a laugh. “He thought his son would be too, but it didn’t work out that way.”

Father Arthur Wendel, assistant pastor of the church located between First Ave. and Avenue A, is a history buff with deep roots in the neighborhood and a long connection with the church, where he served as pastor from 1978 to 1984.

“I was raised on E. Fifth St. between Avenue A and Avenue B in a house my grandmother bought in the early 1900s, “ Wendel said, “and my family came to the neighborhood [from Germany] in 1888.” The neighborhood was so overwhelmingly German that sermons were delivered in that language until World War I and the church was the official national church for German-speaking Catholics until 1950, Wendel said.

“I know of only three or four German families left,” said Wendel. “Now a little less than half the parish is Hispanic and there are many young new people, single and married.

“My grandmother and grandfather were married here, my parents were married here and my three sisters and a brother were married here,” he added. “I said my first mass in Most Holy Redeemer.”

The recent restoration, which involved replacing the copper on the outside of the cupola, cleaning the clocks in the tower and refurbishing eroded parts of the tower exterior, was done by Municipal Building Co., the general contractor, in consultation with West New York Restoration Co.

The bells, however, have not been restored and only one, the angelus, still rings. “The last time they all rang was several years ago. You could hear them all over the Lower East Side,” Wendel recalled.

The pipe organ in the sanctuary has not been played in years. “We’d have to raise more money to repair the organ,” said Wendel. “The tower restoration was very expensive but insurance helped pay for it.” He declined to give the cost of the tower restoration.

The interior of the church was renovated in 1912, when the stained glass windows were imported from Germany, and there was another interior renovation in 1994 for the 150th anniversary of the parish, Wendel said.

The old parish school building behind Most Holy Redeemer on E. Fourth St., which closed several years ago, is now being converted by Nazareth Houses, a church-based nonprofit housing developer, for low- and middle-income apartments.

Movie and television producers often seek Most Holy Redeemer for location shots. “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Changing Lanes” and “Mickey Blue Eyes” were some recent films shot at the church. “The rent they pay is quite a help to the parish,” said Wendel. “Someone suggested that we ought to join the Screen Actors’ Guild,” he quipped.

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