|Students of Old St. Pat's School before it closed|
Amid all the hoopla about St. Patrick's Old Cathedral being made into a basilica, I didn't see mention that St. Patrick's Old Cathedral School closed this year, after 188 years.
There was a notice on the web of a Rummage Sale back in August that advertised dozens of old children's school desks for just $10 each.
I felt sad, and I felt guilty too, when the school closed. A man who worked with a photographer friend of mine had asked me to get involved in the fight to save the school. He was an immigrant from Ecuador and his young son was a student.
I guess, the Pope's blessing is a guarantee that Old St. Patrick's will be saved the wrecking ball that
shook "old" St. Brigid's (another lower East Side church) to its foundations a while back.
The gaping hole in St. Brigid's beautiful stained glass window -- that bore the names of Irish Famine immigrants who built it -- made it clear that the Catholic hierarchy is rooted in capitalism not in sentiment.
If parish churches and schools can't pay for themselves they go on the auction block.
Luckily, in the case of St. Bridgid's, a court order stopped the carnage, and an anonymous donor came up with the money to save the church.
Old St. Patrick's, like St. Bridgid's, has been serving the immigrant community, beginning with the Irish, since the early 1800s. It first opened its doors in 1815. Many of those who fought and died with the Irish Brigade during the Civil War, left from this parish.
Over the years the neighborhoold around Mott Street changed to reflect different waves of immigrant groups landing in New York. After the Irish, the Italians became the standard bearers, but other groups, German, French, hispanic and the most recent wave -- Asians, were also part of the community.
The church and the school were the one constant in the ever changing neighborhood.
The building that housed the school (a gift from one successful Irish immigrant named Cornelius Heeney), once served as a Revolutionary War hospital. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton founded her Sisters of Charity here and her sisters cared for orphans in the building, which went on to become the first Catholic school in New York City.
Over the course of the school's history the students came from mainly immigrant families. (Martin Scorsese was a student). In recent years, the sign on the building was in Chinese and English, and that used to make me smile every time I passed by.
I was always proud of the Irish association with the school. I never passed by the building without thinking that it had been a lighthouse that guided those early Irish immigrants to the first rung on the ladder in the New World.
Pope Benedict, you did well when you chose to bless St. Patrick's Old Cathedral by designating it a "Basilica." Too bad you couldn't cast your blessings over the schools.
So many of the successful Irish American business men and women I've interviewed over the years credited their Catholic education with giving them the start in life. Yet, all across the country Catholic schools are closing.
Isn't there something that can be done? When I visited the Vatican a couple of years back, I was struck by the opulence. Particularly by the Vatican art collection.
How about a rummage sale!
Surely there is nothing more valuable than young minds.