One hundred and sixty years after Irish famine emigrants built St. Brigid’s church in the lower east side of Manhattan the church was re-opened again after a massive private donation of $20 million.
The church had fallen on hard times and was ordered shut by the Archdiocese of New York who stated it was too dangerous to keep open.
However, a determined group of local Catholics formed a committee that kept final closure at bay until the anonymous donation saved it. Demolition had actually begun in 2006 before it was stopped.
On Sunday, with St. Brigid’s Day just days away on February 1st, the miracle came to fruition with the opening of the church again.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan presided and gave praise to those who had worked so hard to preserve St. Brigid’s including his predecessor Cardinal Egan who was also in attendance as was Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny.
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“You don’t believe in miracles, and then something like that happens,” said Peter Quinn, an author whose grandparents were married at St. Brigid’s in 1899. “It seemed so hopeless,” he told The New York Times.
Cardinal Dolan praised his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan.
“It was your dream, your trust, your daring at a time when so many dioceses were cutting back and closing,” he said. “You wanted something brand-spanking new.”
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.
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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."