Despite the protests of its Irish pastor, the Church Our Lady of Peace in Manhattan is closing its doors.
Father Bartholomew Daly (79), a native of Limerick said, “The prospect of losing a church as vibrant as this one has been very hard on everyone.”
The 97-year-old church, on the Upper East Side (UES) close to Central Park, has its whole congregation fighting to keep its doors open.
Over the past decade, Catholic churches all around the United States have been forced to merge with other parishes and even close due to shrinking congregations, the shortage of priests and financial troubles (partially caused by the child sex abuse scandals).
In 2011 the Archdiocese of New York introduced a restructuring plan called “Making All Things New.” Its aim was to serve the evolving needs of its congregation. Three years later an announcement was made that 30 churches would close, including Our Lady of Peace.
The Upper East Side church was founded in 1918 by Irish and Italian immigrants.
Regina Scudellari, whose great-grandfather Innocenzo Scudellari was one of the original donors, told the Irish Times, “The church was founded in a spirit of openness and inclusion.
“We can thank Fr Daly for keeping that spirit alive.”
Daly said, “We wouldn’t dream of turning anyone away.”
The Limerick priest, who has been an administrator for the parish since 1993, says making everyone welcome is his top priority. The church is open from 7am to 9pm daily and has long been a refuge for many of the city’s homeless.
Last November it was announced that the church would close. Since then the local Catholics have organized protests, started online petitions and even hired a canon lawyer to fight their corner.
In December parishioner Robert Corti (65) told the Wall Street Journal, “We will not allow this building to be deconsecrated.
“We will pursue every level of appeal with the Vatican….We’re not ruling anything out.”
The Vatican has proposed a review of their situation by September 1, but the appeals process for a request like this can go on for years.
However, despite the parish's best efforts, the New York Archdiocese is going ahead with plans to close the church this Friday.
Scudellari said, “There may be other reasons, but it’s hard not to think that the real estate value of these buildings [the church and the rectory] doesn’t have something to do with it.”
In the UES residential buildings sell for tens of millions of dollars and in the recent past in New York there has been a trend to convert closed churches into apartments.
The Archdiocese denies any suggestion of profiteering.
Spokesman Joseph Zwilling told the Irish Times, “It is a simple fact that there were more parishes than were needed,” he said.
“The Archdiocese of New York was still operating on a model that was put in place in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was time to move the church into the 21st century.”
The parishioners are not prepared to give up and this week planned an all-night prayer vigil.
One parishioner, Silmara Roman, was married in the church 15 years ago and both of her children were baptized at the church. She said, “We know it’s a long shot but miracles can happen.”
However, she knows that more than likely the church will shut its doors for good on Friday.
Daly said, “It won’t be me who turns the key in the lock. I’ll leave that to someone else.”