NY Observer: Holy Innocents Church – exploding in popularity

One of my favorite parish in these USA, along with St. Agnes in St. Paul and St. John Cantius in Chicago, is Holy Innocents in Manhattan.

Lately there has been talk of closing the parish.  Quite a few national news outlets have picked up on the building controversy.  You can check out the stories by  New York TimesNational Review OnlineRod DreherNational Catholic Register.  There is one by Voice of America that is quite interesting.  Yesterday, Adam Shaw has a blistering contribution at Fox. You might check something I wrote about Holy Innocents, HERE and HERE.

Today I see a piece at the NY Observer.  If for nothing else, check out the beautiful photos, best I’ve seen yet.  My emphases and comments.

The Last Daily Latin Mass in New York is Facing Extinction

Down the street from the lights and sounds of Times Square stands the oldest building in the Garment District, the Church of the Holy Innocents. Over the decades the neighborhood has evolved into the tangle of chain stores and litter that it is today while the 150 year-old church has remained mostly the same since the day it was built. Step inside and the din is somehow lost, replaced by the last quiet, peaceful haven for New York’s traditional Catholics.

Yet what makes Holy Innocents truly unique is that it is the last Catholic church in the city to offer the mass in Latin. The Latin, or Tridentine, Mass has been performed since the 6th century, and this rare service seems to have the effect of transporting one back through time. In the same way that the mass is a testament to the past, the building itself is a landmark in New York history: giving last rites to those in the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building during WWII, baptizing Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill, officiating the marriage of performer Jimmy Durante, and overseeing the conversion of poet Joyce Kilmer. [I didn’t know about Joyce Kilmer.]

Nowadays, however, the very thing that makes this place so extraordinary is the very thing putting it in danger. Despite the artistic, cultural, and financial strengths of Holy Innocents the church was recommended for closure in April as part of New York’s “Making All Things New” initiative (a title one parishioner called “Orwellian”) to consolidate superfluous church spaces.

The reasons cited for the potential closure were that the church is not considered by the advisory board to be “an active, vibrant community of faith,” according to a letter from Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, sent in response to concerned parishioner and Frick Institute employee Valeria Kondratiev. “A parish church is meant to be a center of worship and not a museum,” he went on to say, addressing her concerns for the immense, exquisite, and priceless Constantino Brumidi mural affixed above the altar that would, in her opinion, most likely be unsalvageable if the church were closed.

This comes right on the tails of an immense $700,000 renovation project undergone just last year with most of the money going to restore the Brumidi mural. The project was paid for in major part by donations from parishioners and partly overseen by the very Archdiocese that may have known far in advance of the church’s potential for consolidation. “Some people… gave until it hurt,” parishioner Ron Mirro said. “It’s just very upsetting.”

The puzzling thing about the Cardinal’s claims of a lack of vibrancy in the community, however, is that Holy Innocents seems to have exploded in popularity since they started their daily Latin Masses in 2010. Total Sunday Mass attendance is now 250-275, nearly triple the average attendance of 100 people in 2009. The church is nearing 75% of its ordinary seating capacity of 350-400. In addition, it is currently completely debt free with donations on track to double in the current fiscal year from the last.

Explanations for an inexplicable closure range, some believing it an issue of misinformation and miscommunication like volunteer Co-Coordinator of the church Mark Froeba who said that the priests who were trained after the Second Vatican Council grew to harbor an animosity for the Latin Mass and the old, problematic ways of the church that it came to represent for them.

[…]

Unfortunately, Holy Innocents has little recourse to save their home. “As Catholics we are called to be obedient to our clergy and that’s what we accept about our faith,” said Con O’Shea-Creal, a regular commuter to the church from Queens. He and his wife Paige were recently married at Holy Innocents. The young couple agreed that they trusted in the Archdiocese’ final decision but that it can be difficult to do so sometimes.

This attitude is reflected in many of the parishioners of Holy Innocents. They are left with a feeling of helplessness and fear, making change.org petitions and writing pleading letters to the Cardinal, but incapable of doing much else besides their daily mass, to which they have added a prayer for the health and heart of Cardinal Dolan to spare their church.

[…]

Parishioners are made up of a diverse cross-section of races, ethnicities, and, surprisingly, ages. It is a common misconception that traditional Catholics are predominately elderly, but the Latin Mass is seemingly burgeoning in popularity among young Catholics.

[…]

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano debates just such issues on television most of his days as the Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News Channel, but many of his nights are spent at Holy Innocents. “The Cardinal… [is] a terrific human being… He has a very, very big heart. I am confident that in that very big heart of his, there’s a place for [Holy Innocents],” he said. [Amen!  Well said.] “One of the church’s truisms is ‘sacred then means sacred now,’” he told the Observer. “The church teaches that if something was sacred, it was always sacred and it always will be sacred. Well, this Tridentine Mass was sacred for 1,400 years. It is sacred still.”

[…]

The Cardinal’s final decision on the status of the closure will be revealed sometime in September.

Read the whole thing there.

One of the beautiful photos.

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21 Responses to NY Observer: Holy Innocents Church – exploding in popularity

  1. DisturbedMary says:

    Cardinal Dolan will not close this beautiful faithful Church. He has already said on his blog that certain communities of faith deserve special consideration:
    “For instance, one parish suggested to close was also serving the deaf community, another welcoming people who desire the Latin Mass, another the Vietnamese Catholics, all of whom, while not living within the parish neighborhood, were still in need of pastoral care and a spiritual home. ” This stance of exempting special communities will come in handy as a cover to why his hands are off the churches of staked out as LGBT parishes.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    In one diocese where I lived for a long time, the powers that be had to change the criteria for closing down churches. At first, it was “if the parishes were not financial viable.” In a survey, all were in the black. So, those in the chancery changed the criteria to “if the parishes did not have living faith”, such as marriages, baptisms, RCIA converts and so on. Of course, many of the parishes were full of old people, so parishes began to be closed.

    Sadly, too often, the Latin Mass churches are not “parishes” set aside for the Latin Mass, which I think should be done in every diocese. This works in Dublin, where St. Kevin’s is the Latin Mass Chaplaincy. This means that all the people go to the Mass there, get married there, have their babies baptized there and so on. If there is only one church in a diocese, or two, where there is a regular Latin Mass, why cannot the Bishop, or in this case, the Cardinal, make that church the official Latin Mass center?

    Then, such a church would become a real parish and become more and more viable by any criteria.

    Of course, my less than innocent side thinks that maybe some want such TLM churches to close. I hope not.

  3. Latinmass1983 says:

    DisturbedMary,

    That does not seem to be accurate. That blogpost you mentioned was dated July 1. The letter the Cardinal sent to Ms. Valeria Kondratiev (mentioned in the article) is dated July 3rd.

    It would not seem to be a coincidence that the Cardinal did not mention Holy Innocents on his blogpost, but did mention it by name in the letter he sent to Ms. Kondratiev.

    The Croatian community was also mentioned by name as an exemption in the official recommendations with regards to which churches should remain open and which ones should remain closed.

    It is clear that Holy Innocents is a speck in the eyes of many in the Archdiocese and they are trying to find a way to get it out of the way as much as they can. I can bet that many of these people have the title of Msgr. attached to their names as well!

  4. Priam1184 says:

    @Supertradmum Yes, some want Holy Innocents to close just to have one less beautiful church offering beautiful liturgy in the world. This is the same crowd, or their intellectual descendants, who ripped all the statues out, gutted the altars, and did their best to make the Mass as banal as possible in the first place. I won’t comment on their motivations because I don’t know them but they are a sad lot these ones. But the world they have made is passing and within the lifetimes of those born today will most likely be gone.

    As the humble moderator of this blog often says: SAVE THE LITURGY SAVE THE WORLD!

  5. Charles E Flynn says:

    Could the diocese sell the church to a religious order rather than close it?

  6. robtbrown says:

    Charles Flynn,

    Generally, parishes run by religious orders are owned by dioceses. But you’re right, if lack of priests is given as a reason for closing Holy Innocents, then the FSSP and ICKSP would have to be asked to staff it.

  7. RobW says:

    I feel for these people. Im blessed to have a found a little gem of a church in Mater Ecclesiae in Berlin, N.J. that celebrates the TLM. Fr. Pasley is a true shepherd. Hang in there folks…Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart WILL triumph!

  8. rtjl says:

    Unfortunately, Holy Innocents has little recourse to save their home. “As Catholics we are called to be obedient to our clergy and that’s what we accept about our faith,” … This attitude is reflected in many of the parishioners of Holy Innocents. They are left with a feeling of helplessness and fear,

    The curmudgeon in me says that’s not quite true. Should their beloved parish close, they could form a private association of the faithful, incorporate civilly, buy or rent their own community center, focus the bulk of their faith life and (lay)apostolate around that center, do nothing unorthodox or heretical, restrict their contact with the local parish to Mass on Sunday and retain the services of a good canon lawyer. That won’t get them a latin Mass (at least not directly) but it will send a message that they mean business.

    It would also take a lot of determination, organization and will – and set a bad precedent.

  9. SimonDodd says:

    I must confess that I think his eminence Card. Dolan has already incurred lasting opprobrium simply by letting the axe hang over the parish like this even if it doesn’t ultimately drop. Imagine a corporation in which the CEO announced that there would be massive layoffs in a few months, and that no one was safe; do you think those who keep their jobs will be more relieved to keep their jobs than angry for their mistreatment?

  10. JustaSinner says:

    Oh how Christ must weep seeing what is done to His church…

  11. Raymond says:

    We are called to be obedient to our clergy when it comes to faith and morals, but when it comes to administrative and financial matters, we–the laity–actually have a lot of influence and (dare I say it) power.

    I don’t want to say that Holy Innocents parishioners are being overly servile with their deference to their bishop (legacy of Irish-style clericalism?), but in many traditionally Catholic countries–having lived in Spain and in the Philippines myself–many lay people would not shy away from confronting their bishops and priests in person when they’re really concerned or upset by something important. And it’s usually conservative, devout women of some means who do this!

    I remember my godmother putting her foot down and threatening to withhold donations when the then-pastor at our hometown parish wanted to move the tabernacle from the main altar towards the corner. My “madrina” prevailed!

    Also, a story about the late Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila: when he was still a young bishop in another city, a rich, prominent lady gave him a jeweled pectoral cross as a gift. Finding it a bit superfluous, he sold it and gave the money to the poor. When the rich, prominent lady found out about what he did, she confronted him in person saying, “Next time, if all you need is money, all you have to do is ask.” And she gave him another pectoral cross.

    So, come on, Holy Innocents parishioners–organize and fight the good fight. Be assertive and don’t be afraid. Cardinal Dolan is your father in faith, but please show him where he is wrong on this matter.

  12. NBW says:

    I hope that Holy Innocents will stay open.

  13. JBS says:

    “It is a common misconception that traditional Catholics are predominately elderly.” In my experience, the celebrations of the EF Mass are filled with babies producing an array of sound.

  14. Supertradmum: “If there is only one church in a diocese, or two, where there is a regular Latin Mass, why cannot the Bishop, or in this case, the Cardinal, make that church the official Latin Mass center?”

    One strategem to marginalize the TLM in a diocese is to segregate it in a “ghetto” consisting of only a single church. Is it not better to work towards the goal of numerous TLMs distributed in parishes throughout the diocese?

  15. Priam:”This is the same crowd, or their intellectual descendants, who ripped all the statues out, gutted the altars, and did their best to make the Mass as banal as possible in the first place.”

    At my considerable distance from NY, I have no reason to doubt that such “sentiments” are partly behind this. But I wonder whether another significant factor might be the substantial value of the Manhattan property on which this vibrant spiritual gem sits. “Follow the money.”

  16. acardnal says:

    I agree with Henry Edward’s comment above. The goal is to have both the EF and the OF Mass celebrated at every parish! Don’t confine the EF to one parish in a diocese.

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  18. THREEHEARTS says:

    Off course Dolan will close it down. He probably is already negotiating with some developer, even perhaps the Feds to sell it. His excuse will be it is too expensive to run. He will say perhaps in writing, we will build it elsewhere. this location will never materialize. Why should it the consciences of many of his pastors are alarmed at the success of the religious and holy lives who due to a proper sense of the faith are drawn there. Perhaps Father you can find and publish the number of confessions per week at this magnificent example of the Catholic faith. Perhaps concrete statistics of practicing catholics may change his mind or allow the Pope to help Dolan out of the difficulties he is experiencing. This Church is a concrete example of shrine to the catholic faith as opposed to the shrine rebuilt to money and the power of the muslim sword. To their religion it is part of their empire as they have conquered and laid waste to part of their enemies stronghold. Ask any muslim that truly follows the Koran

  19. Athelstan says:

    I agree with Henry Edwards here:

    At my considerable distance from NY, I have no reason to doubt that such “sentiments” are partly behind this. But I wonder whether another significant factor might be the substantial value of the Manhattan property on which this vibrant spiritual gem sits. “Follow the money.”

    Don’t get me wrong: There are those in the ADNY with little love for the traditional Mass and those who love it. But I think this makes Holy Innocents a convenient target of opportunity. The property that the church stands on is worth a small fortune; it even owns the air space above it. And for an archdiocese deep in red ink, struggling to fund a $200 million renovation of St. Patrick’s, parishes like this are worth far more sold off than they are for their cathedraticum revenue stream. The fact that it’s in the black and out of debt is neither here nor there. The fact that ADNY has a worsening shortage of priests is also really neither here nor there.

    Which is why suggestions, like those being urged by the Rorate Caeli editors, that Holy Innocents be given over to an Ecclesia Dei society like the FSSP or ICK doesn’t really get to the real motivation for shutting down this parish and selling off its property. Yes, some in the chancery have no love for the TLM, and would like to see it go away; or , at best, some simply don’t understand what the fuss is about, and why those parishioners can’t just happily merge over with another parish like nearby Francis of Assisi; unless it’s an ethnic parish, it’s all interchangeable to such a mindset (go read the blog of A Catholic in Brooklyn, who sometimes posts here, if you want to see this mindset in action). But what they really need the most is the cash value of the property. They won’t come right out and say it, because that reasoning won’t fly once the decision gets appealed to Rome; but it’s been apparent to a number of people in the diocese that this motivation seems to be driving a number of these parish closings.

  20. chantgirl says:

    Aside from my love for the EF, beautiful architecture, and historically important artwork, Holy Innocents should be preserved if only to be a bur under the saddle of the pro-abortion catholic politicians in NYC. Holy Innocents in Heaven, please pray for our modern Herods.

    On another note, if the parish is in the black, and a priest or priestly society is willing to minister to it, wouldn’t a closure be tantamount to theft (from the faithful)?

  21. Ichabod says:

    Fr. Z, I hope you revisit this post in a month so we can stay apprised. And, please, continue to tell us all we can do (in addition to prayers) to help keep Holy Innocents intact.

    How about a procession from Holy Innocents to the Archdiocese, and back again?