Thursday, August 19, 2010

St. Brigid's

St. Brigid's Church on 8th and B, being heavily renovated.
Kumon, a math-tutoring course I took in the summer of '92 (awful memories).

St. Brigid's on 8th Street and Avenue B has been a favorite church of mine since I read about it's near destruction a few years back, and the last minute anonymous $20 million donation that was made to save it from the wrecking ball, so I thought I'd take the time to write about it.

"The Famine Church", as it is sometimes called, was built from 1848 - 1850 for the swarm of Irish immigrants who came to New York's shores to escape starvation and poverty. From then on, it served as a safe-haven for Irish, Germans, Puerto Ricans, and any other group that landed on its doorsteps.

So I decided to walk down there to see if the scaffolding had been taken down at all. The walk is kind of long, but I've gotten pretty used to it. On my way down, at about 51st Street, I walked past Kumon, a summer school for reinforcing math skills. I did this when I was a kid. It was awful ... what a way to put a damper on summer vacation. The simple, forlorn face in the "O" says it all. Maybe I oughtta sign up again ... I didn't do much else this summer.

Anyway, I made it down there, through Alphabet City and Tompkins Square Park, to the church, still covered in scaffolding. It's obviously being redone top to bottom, and definitely needs it. Between this old church and 7B, the old bar a block down that has been used in numerous movies and TV shows from The Godfather Part II to Crocadile Dundee to Rent to Law and Order to the new Electric Company, Avenue B from 7th to 8th Street is a true contender for my favorite block in the city.

The second pastor of the church, Reverand Thomas Mooney, was also pastor of the 69th Regiment during the Civil War, and the regiment often drilled in the park across the street. Although the Ancient Order of Hibernians often note Old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mott and Prince Streets as being at the center of the spiritual lives of the soldiers of the Irish Brigade, it is clear that St. Brigid's, especially in its heyday, played a very important role in the lives of the Irish people who flocked to the United States. When the men returned from Gettysburg, they gathered for a mass here to honor Father Mooney for his valiant service. The church always had troubles, though, and an 1890 article I found from the New York Times archives described that the church wasn't even officially consecrated by the Archbishop until forty years after it first opened up due to debts incurred during construction.

During the seventies and eighties, when the neighborhood went into decline, St. Brigid's was considered a safe haven for people, and the pastor, Rev. George Kuhn, was committed to helping the homeless who set up camp in the park.

All in all, this church has been through a lot, and it is no wonder it is beloved by so many. Going around to the back, I can see the large cracks where the back wall nearly separated from the back of the church. There's clearly a lot of work to be done, but I'm very much looking forward to that day it reopens so I can look around inside.

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