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Council Speaker Christine Quinn, actor Matt Dillon and Council member Rosie Mendez in front of St. Brigid’s, the “famine church of Avenue B.”

Anonymous $20 million donation saves church built by Irish immigrants

\"Council

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, actor Matt Dillon and Council member Rosie Mendez in front of St. Brigid’s, the “famine church of Avenue B.”

After almost five years of political battling, an anonymous donation of twenty million, hard work by Irish immigrants and others, Saint Brigid's is ready for a new life in the East Village in New York.

The Famine era church built by Irish immigrants was set to be demolished and had effectively been abandoned when local residents and Irish organizations stepped in.

Now although many of the original artifacts seem to have been lost  this church that welcomed victims of the Famine in the black 40s has emerged from the ashes.  

Cardinal Timothy Dolan will be saying mass and dedicating the church, formally as Saint Brigid's and Saint Emeric's. This event will take place at 5:00 PM on January 27th the Sunday just before Saint Brigid's Day.

The battle to save the church was won when an anonymous donor gave $20 million.

The $20 million ensured that the 160-year-old church would not be demolished and turned into condos. The secret Samaritan specified $10 million for repairs, $2 million for St. Brigid's School and the remaining $8 million as an endowment to the parish.

One of the few links left to the famine generation, the Gothic-style church was designed by Patrick Keely. A Tipperary man, Keely moved to New York when he was 25 and went on to have a long and distinguished career as an architect. The cornerstone was laid in September 1848 and the church was completed 15 months later, the work carried out by Irish craftsmen who had fled the great hunger in Ireland. St. Brigid's became a haven for the Irish-American community, and later for all nationalities that have called the parish home.

However, in recent years Mass attendance went down and in 2001 the church was closed after a crack was discovered in a wall, rendering the structure unsafe. In 2004 the parish was closed and the Archdiocese of New York started making moves to destroy the church to raise funds.

The Archdiocese's actions provoked outrage in the local community and a committee to save St. Brigid's Church was formed. In July 2006 demolition workers made a huge hole in the east wall, dragged pews out onto the street, and shattered some of the irreplaceable stained-glass windows.

Numerous legal challenges and appeals were made, but despite the committee's best efforts, the final appeal ruled in favor of the Archdiocese. The committee was working on an appeal at the Court of Appeals in Albany, when on May 21 2010 the $20 million gift was announced.

One man's generosity changed everything. "This magnificent gift will make it possible for Saint Brigid's Church to be fittingly restored with its significant structural problems properly addressed," said Edward Cardinal Egan, who had been much criticized for abandoning his flock in St. Brigid's, in a statement.

"The two additional gifts, to create an endowment for the parish and to support the parish school, are a powerful testament to the donor's goodness and understanding. He has my heartfelt gratitude, as I recently told him at a meeting in my residence."

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