Monday, July 31, 2006

New York's 'Famine Church' Gets Reprieve

NEW YORK -- A Manhattan church, facing demolition, known colloquially by its supporters as "The Famine Church," won a last-minute reprieve.

On Saturday, a judge, with demolition underway, ordered that it be halted. The move ensures that St. Brigid's will survive for a few more weeks.

St. Brigid, a Roman Catholic church, is on Avenue B and Eighth Street. It was built by Irish immigrants fleeing An Gorta Mor, "The Great Hunger." The Committee To Save St. Brigid's Church has led the opposition to the Archdiocese of New York's move to raze the church. The committee represents a coalition of residents, former parishioners, preservationists, and Irish-Americans bridling at both the loss of the historic church and the archdiocese's seeming indifference to the church's growing tide of support.

The archdiocese closed the building in 2001, citing structural weaknesses, and began to demolish it Friday.

On Thursday, workers punched an eight-foot-high hole in the back wall of the church, smashed a stained-glass window, and erected scaffolding around the base of the church.

But an injunction issued by Justice Barbara R. Kapnick of State Supreme Court on Saturday halted demolition, giving the church and its supporters until Aug. 24, when both sides are scheduled to appear in court.

The Committee to Save St. Brigid’s had gone to court Thursday to obtain a stay on demolition, asserting that the archdiocese had not properly convened a meeting of the church’s board of trustees, required by state law, according to court papers. The committee is also challenging the archdiocese’s demolition permit filed with the City Department of Buildings.

The buildings department last week rejected the bid to have the city rescind the archdiocese’s demolition permit. But the supporters filed an appeal with the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals. According to Harry Kresky, the committee's lawyer, the committee went back to court Thursday to push for a stay until the board could rule.

According to archiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese convened a meeting of the church’s five-person board of trustees on July 18. The board comprises Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the archbishop of New York; the archdiocese’s vicar general; two former parishioners; and the pastor or administrator of the church.

Archdiocesan officials recruited the former parishioners through a neighboring church, Zwilling said. Because the parish was dissolved in 2004, archdiocesan officials appointed Bishop Robert A. Brucato, the archdiocese’s chancellor, to be the administrator.

The trustees voted unanimously to demolish the church, Zwilling said. WGT

For additional reading:

* "Old Church Gets Reprieve as Judge Halts Demolition," The New York Times, Saturday, July 29, 2006

* "Demolition Starts at Historic Catholic Church in East Village," The New York Times, Friday, July 28, 2006

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