New York -- There were many themes running through June 15th ’s fundraiser for St. Brigid’s at Connolly’s 45. The Lower East Side church, parish to many Irish immigrants in the mid-19th Century, and now to a largely Hispanic population, is in danger of being closed and demolished in a cost-cutting measure by the New York Archdiocese. Power was one theme, politics another; heritage and history mingled with them, and money and consciousness were raised. One reader summed up the fear of gentrification –- dare we say NIMBY? -- with the comment, “Dear God, not another NYU dorm in the neighborhood!”
Above right, Tom Murphy, from The United Federation of Teachers, was among the more than 300 who turned out to support St. Brigid's, and the bards who rallied to the endangered Famine-era church. The effort raised about $20,000 for the effort to spare the church. Photos by Patricia Jameson-Sammartano
The Bards for St. Brigid’s included many of New York’s literati: authors Pete Hamill, Malachy McCourt, Colum McCann, Peter Quinn, Thomas Fleming, Joseph O'Connor, T.J. English, Anne Maguire, Kathleen Hill, Thomas Kelly, Dennis Smith, Tom Phelan, the musicians of Sorcha Dorcha, and historian Marion R. Casey all contributed their words, and in some cases songs to the evening. Colum McCann sang, “Dublin/New York in the Rare Oul Times” and Green Party candidate for governor of New York, Malachy McCourt, led the gathering in “The Wild Mountain Thyme.” T.J. English reminded the crowd that, “It all began with the family,” imploring the listeners, who numbered about 300 at any given time, to save St. Brigid’s Church.
Novelist Tom Fleming, pictured left in a light moment, read about Irish-American life at the turn of the century, while Professor Kathleen Hill, from Sarah Lawrence College, read from "Still Waters in Niger," her novel about African famine and Irish connections; Peter Quinn asked, “Where are the Protestants?” and echoed ... yes, that's right ... Ian Paisley, urging “No surrender!” We’ll wager that the two men are not normally in agreement.
Host of the evening Larry Kirwan, who lived across the street from St. Brigid’s, read from "Green Suede Shoes," narrating the story of Bobby Sands and the hunger strikes of 1981, and the impact those deaths had on hundreds of New York Irish, transforming regular folks into protesters. He spoke of activism as an act of memory, and that became another thread running through the evening. St. Brigid’s, the famine, the oppression of Catholic Irishmen in Ireland and here in the United States were echoed by Bobby Sands’ hunger strike and eventual death in Long Kesh. Meanwhile, said Kirwan, multitudes of Irish-Americans demonstrated outside of the British consulate, and, “the tribe never faltered, never lost faith.”
Ironically, on Sunday, April 2, another Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church was profiled in The New York Times. That St. Brigid’s, in San Francisco, closed in 1994 and is being sold to the Academy of Art University by the San Francisco Archdiocese. They blamed dwindling attendance and the necessity to earthquake-proof the church, but plan to use much of the $3.7 million raised by the sale to help offset legal settlements awarded to California sexual abuse victims.
Back to the Lower East Side and St. Brigid’s, though. Larry Kirwan ended the evening by saying, “One man has the power to save this church. His name is Cardinal Egan and when you phone him, make sure you ask for Communications.” By the way, that number is 1-212-371-1011, ext. 2990. -- Patricia Jameson-Sammartano, WGT Culture Editor
* Coming Back to Fight for the Church of Their Ancestors
New York Times, June 18, 2006.
* Court Hears Arguments on Suit to Stop a Church's Demolition, New York Times, June 14, 2006
* Their Church Shut and Now Sold, Parishioners Fight On, New York Times, April 2, 2006