Friday, April 6, 2012

A Good Friday look at Mary Help of Christians

Mary Help of Christians on East 12th Street near Avenue A opened in 1917... and the ornate Roman Catholic church closed in 2007, as the Times reported. It was part of a realignment by the Archdiocese of New York.

Rumors of development here have been swirling since 2008, when The Real Deal reported that two-thirds of the playground space along Avenue A had been sold in an all-cash deal for $10.4 million.

Some four years later, the Church and adjacent school are still standing. But for how long? We heard from a longtime parishioner back in November, who said: "There are rumors that the church and school property are being sold by the Spring ... I'm afraid that NYU is buying it and going to build dorms." (Reps from NYU and the Archdiocese didn't respond to emails requesting comment.)

There is still a Spanish-language mass at the church every Sunday morning at 11:30. (The sign also mentions an English-language mass, but a church volunteer told me that they did away with that about 16 months ago.)

I went to mass there a few months back. There were perhaps 50 people there, an equal mix of older parishioners and young families with toddlers.

Last week, Off the Grid interviewed Janet Bonica, a parishioner who was born and raised in the East Village.

Here was her reaction to the church closing in 2007:

Our very foundation was pulled out from under us. We were always told that being a Catholic was more than just going to Sunday Mass; it was being a part of a parish community. We had a vibrant, active community, and it was taken away from us.

If Mary Help of Christians Church is demolished, I don’t think I will ever be able to go past that property again.

There are no words to describe the loss I feel. It is as deep as losing a beloved family member and, tied to the loss of the church, is the loss of our beloved Salesians of St. John Bosco. I cannot help but feel that we lost our church because it is sitting on a valuable parcel of real estate.

Indeed. Just look at the aerial view (via Off the Grid)... think what a developer could/would do with this prime real estate... the church, adjacent school and rectory, and playground where vendors set up for the weekend flea markets... (the three buildings on the southeast corner of 12th Street and Avenue A aren't owned by the Archdiocese...)

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and other community groups submitted a request to the Landmarks Preservation Commission asking them to landmark the church. The LPC denied the request. (Read about that here.) Janet Bonica said that she has written to Mayor Bloomberg and Cardinal Egan to no avail. She said they have even written the Vatican. As she told Off the Grid, "Obviously nothing helped."

[The Mary Help of Christians rectory]

The church in 1920 via the NYPL Digital Gallery ...


Big Brother said...

I can't even begin to imagine the impact an NYU dorm at that location would have on the neighborhood. NYU is a disease.

John M said...

This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I had won that huge lottery jackpot. I would buy up properties like this, one after another, to guarantee they are not lost and their neighborhoods not ruined further by NYU and other obnoxious developers.

Aren't there any wealthy individuals out there who would band together, pool their money, and save some of the places that helped define the city they grew up or grew rich in? Like the donor who saved St. Brigid's, a group of like-minded people could do tremendous good. In some cases, they could even realize a return on their money. For instance, what if the old townhouse that David Schwimmer destroyed had been saved, and restored for renting? That would have been great in so many ways.

If anyone knows the anonymous donor who saved St. Brigid's, perhaps you could ask him or her if they know other people like themselves who might be willing to explore this possibility.

Of course, for all I know, some group is already doing what I'm suggesting. If so, I applaud their efforts, but it's not enough. We need an organized, well-funded resistance that can beat the destroyers at their own game.

Anonymous said...

This won't be an NYU dorm. No way. They won't come this far east at this point. This will likely be some kind of 8-story apartment development.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE KEEP THE CHURCH...too much hypergentrification going on..

Anonymous said...

If something gets built here it's going to destroy the views of several buildings. Polish off another nail for the coffin laying to rest the east village.

Anonymous said...

The impact of a dorm development here would be enormous and deleterious. Besides destroying some of the undeveloped space left on Ave A, it would flood the area with residents, destroy the low-rise nature of the neighborhood, and add an even more transient element to our community. I really hope this doesn't happen, and it's sad to think that just as St. Brigid's had been saved and restored, MHoC could be destroyed.

geoffism said...

I really hope that this is just a crazy rumor - the NYU dorm part. The weekend market is a nice slice of life that breathes into the neighborhood every weekend. I'd hate to see it go. Not to mention it being replaced by construction.

The sad truth is, that there isn't much room left in NYC - how many "lots" like the one on Ave A & 11th still exist? We're just running out of space.