Relics from a shrinking religion warehoused in Staten Island

NY Archdiocese jumble shop

There will soon be a rooftop swimming pool where the copper-domed bell towers of Mary Help of Christians once rose.

Formerly a hub of the East Village’s Italian-American community, the site of the Roman Catholic church is now slated for a 158-unit rental building, complete with basement gym and rooftop gardens…much of what was precious inside it — and other now-closed Catholic churches — sits in a Staten Island warehouse…

Some items ended up at the warehouse after the 2007 decision of the Archdiocese of New York to close or shrink 21 parishes. Others came because of renovations. Much more will be coming; the archdiocese plans to announce another round of parish closings in 2014.

The archdiocese has not always had an organized system for dealing with vestments, patens, candle drip guards and myriad other ritual objects when they are no longer needed. Before 2004, some ended up in antique stores or trash cans, while others went to parishioners or other churches.

Then there was realization that “these things, even if they don’t have great financial value, have historical value, or liturgical value, and we should preserve them,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese…

In 2007, the archdiocese said it would not sell closing churches to developers, but that turned out not to be the case. Mary Help of Christians was sold in December 2012 to Steiner NYC for $41 million. Near the Holland Tunnel, Our Lady of Vilnius, a former Lithuanian Church, was put on the market by the diocese for $13 million. It sold in October to the Extell Development Company, which is flipping the property and asking $19 million for it. A brochure suggests 22 stories of apartments could be built there…

I presume the usual practice in the United States of allowing tax-free profits will remain in place. Why use profits to aid people who really could use help, eh?

Kevin Shaughnessy, the facilities manager believes most of the decorative effluvia won’t be going anywhere. He said of one favorite, a representation of pregnant Mary, “Chances are, when all of us die and go to heaven, that will still be sitting there.”

The Church – and the public – would be better served by periodic rummage sales.

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