Voice of America on Holy Innocents in Manhattan: a vibrant Catholic community

There was another media story about Holy Innocents in Manhattan.  This is the only parish in Manhattan which as daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  It is a beautiful place with great people.

As you know a commission in the Archdiocese of New York has recommendation to Cardinal Dolan that Holy Innocents (which is reviving, thriving and paying its bills) be closed. Check this out at Voice of America News.

What’s really interesting is that this is on Voice of America.

VOA was established in WWII to provide accurate information for the peoples oppressed by tyrannical regimes trapped behind enemy lines.  VOA really ramped up during the Cold War, to bring a message of freedom and news to those who suffered under Communism.  I remember tuning into VOA on my little shortwave radio when I was first in Rome, huddled in my cold and squalid digs.  I had sort of forgotten about it!  (Similarly, I had listened to Vatican Radio when I was in seminary in these USA in the 80’s.)  I digress.

Manhattan’s Catholic Churches Face Consolidation, Possible Closures

Some Catholic churches in Manhattan could be closed as the Archdiocese of New York implements a strategic plan to consolidate the churches. Shifting populations, limited resources and fewer priests are among the factors driving the consolidation. At one midtown church facing possible closure, parishioners pray for a miracle.

The Church of the Holy Innocents is the only church in Manhattan offering a high Latin Mass every day of the week. It is such a rarity that many travel across the New York metropolitan region for the daily 6:00 pm service.

Edward Hawkings makes the trek every day despite his disabilities, because the Mass inspires his soul.

“The Mass takes us to a different place. We concentrate at the Mass. It requires a great concentration. It lifts us up. It brings us to a different level, removes us from the world,” said Hawkings.

But this church, and others in Manhattan, are at risk. A program called “Making All Things New” by the Archdiocese of New York is evaluating the membership, ministry and fiscal solvency of the churches under its jurisdiction. Based on the results, some communities might see their churches closed as part of a consolidation.

The potential closure of Holy Innocents [It isn’t a done deal, officially.] signals a larger problem to Thomas Basile, who has been coming to this church since he was a child.

It seems to me almost like someone is intentionally dismantling the Catholic patrimony of this city. This is basically a Catholic city with a Catholic history,” said Basile.

The parishioners in Manhattan once made up 25 percent of the Archdiocese’s population, but now they account for only 12 percent. That and the dwindling number of Catholic priests are just two reasons why the Archdiocese has to make hard choices, said communications director Joseph Zwilling. [What do you want to bet that priests could be found to cover Holy Innocents?]

“Any kind of change is always difficult. We understand that it’s difficult especially for people in their parishes who love their churches, who love the way things are, who don’t want to see any change. And we understand that. But we also realize that if that church is going to effectively meet the needs of the people, it has to meet the needs of the people as they exist today,” said Zwilling. [The needs of the people as they exist today… such as… Mass, confessions, spiritual conferences, works of mercy.  At Holy Innocents you find all these things.  They even have a discount clothing store in the basement, in cooperation with businesses nearby.  Holy Innocents is in the Garment District, which is on the upswing.]

But some Manhattan Catholics fear that their historic, city churches – built on valuable real estate – are only on the chopping block to improve the Archdiocese’s finances.

“The financial condition of the Archdiocese somehow may be corrupting decisions to make decisions to sell churches,” said Hawkings.

Zwilling denied that claim. He said the Archdiocese spends $30 to $40 million dollars a year to subsidize churches that cannot pay their debts, an amount that is unsustainable. [My understanding is that Holy Innocents pays its bills and also exceeded their quota for the annual capital campaign for the Archdiocese.] The sale of a church will be the last resort, Zwilling said, and even when that happens the proceeds will be used for the parishioners.

The Archbishop of New York, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, is currently evaluating the program’s final recommendations and is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the parishioners of Holy Innocents pray for the future of their church. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, an annual celebration of the Eucharist, they took their faith to the streets as proof that the city is still home to a vibrant Catholic community.

There is a good point at the end.  Holy Innocents is a vibrant place.  You can sense it when you go into the church and watch Manhattan coming in and out in a constant stream, to pray, light candles, be in the quiet, participate at the reverent Masses.

You might check something I wrote about Holy Innocents, HERE and HERE.

And NYTNRORod DreherNational Catholic Register.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Be The Maquis, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, Pò sì jiù, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices, The Olympian Middle and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Karl and Zita says:

    I happen to know of a few strong-identity Catholics that work at VOA; I’m sure there are more. I wouldn’t be surprised if they assisted in getting this story some air-time.

  2. CharlesRS says:

    I ask because I do not know…

    Did not Cardinal Dolan welcome the Institute of Christ the King to Milwaukee? Why do traditionalists suspect that he has suddenly become hostile to the Extraordinary Form? I confess that I do not know what’s going on “behind the scenes” in the Archdiocese, but I suspect Holy Innocence will receive a reprieve. Let’s pray this is so.

  3. JustaSinner says:

    Sic the Spanish Inquisition on them!
    And yes, Fr. Greg Reynolds is STILL ex communicated. (Rather perversely, that brings a smile to me every time I hear/read that…)

  4. trad catholic mom says:

    Is the list of proposed parish closures posted anywhere online? I went to the Archdiocese of NY parish planning in the news page and didn’t see one, but I didn’t read all the documents on the page. The most recent posting of July 1st has some passionate and well thought out suggestions in the comments section.

    I have to say that if they choose to close the only daily TLM parish it’s really going to send a loud message.

  5. thomas tucker says:

    The Cardinal’s recent blog post about treating people with dignity ( particularly the current illegal immigrants) led me to ask in his comments section if Fr. Wylie had been treated with dignity when he was summarily fired and sent back to South Africa ( essentially deported.) Not surprisingly, my comment/question was not posted, and I got no response. I guess dignity is in the eye of the beholder.

  6. DisturbedMary says:

    Holy Innocents will not close.

    Cardinal Dolan signaled as such in a blog he wrote on July 1: http://blog.archny.org/index.php/making-all-things-new-update/

    In it he points out reasons to keep certain parishes open even if the recommendation is that they be closed:
    ….” in many cases, special considerations for unique groups. 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….”

    Looks like the reference to the Latin Mass goers is his way of reprieving Holy Innocents – it is after all the Church that welcomes Latin Mass. This way too, other “unique groups”, like the homosexual community being served by St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis Xavier and St. Paul’s, can also stay open under the same rationale. That will soften the criticism of the Archdiocese for its muteness in the face of pre-Pride celebrations and Masses.

    A very clever solution to an uncomfortable predicament. Holy Innocents will not close.

  7. Hieronymus says:

    Given all attention this whole affair is getting, I can’t see Cardinal Dolan closing the church at this point. Dolan is too political to face the press on this. In fact, I imagine we are going to hear that it was never going to be shut down, it was simply one church on a long list whose situation was being reviewed. Or perhaps that Cardinal Dolan intervened when he heard about the plight of the faithful who were going to be displaced and canceled the closure out of pastoral sensitivity.

  8. Magpie says:

    I don’t see how Cardinal Dolan could close this church without looking extremely, extremely bad. It would be a real kick in the teeth to faithful Catholics everywhere, not just NY. I’m in Ireland, and if is is closed, my teeth will also be kicked. Seeing such vibrant parishes gives hope, and who would want to crush and destroy hope?

  9. Moro says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think we should start a novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. It’s effective and a devotion cherished by Pope Francis.

  10. Matt R says:

    My suggestion is to make it a personal parish run by diocesan priests like Mater Ecclesiae in NJ, and put a priest there pretty much for life.

  11. acardnal says:

    Anyone and everyone with an email account, Twitter, Facebook, Website, blog, Instagram, etc. should retransmit this post! Let Cardinal Dolan know – respectfully – that this parish should remain OPEN!

  12. I am starting to think the best hope for Holy Innocents is to get the FSSP or some other religious order in there. Yesterday, I went to Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer. By the door was a handout discussing its status as the possibilities for its cluster are considered. Of the four parishes in that cluster, St. Vincent Ferrer is the only one not being considered for closure or merger. You can bank on the #1 reason being that it is staffed by Dominicans.

    In last week’s Catholic New York is an article about how a parish upstate has just opened a completely new, large church building seating 800, which consolidated a main church and two smaller mission chapels into a single location. A key point is that this reduces the number of Masses required in that area considerably, and consequently will reduce the number of priests needed (maybe even to one). Other high-sounding points were made, but the staffing problem is the crux of the matter. At least the stained-glass windows from poor St. Ann’s on East 13 St made it to this new church.

    There was also an article detailing retirements of archdiocesan priests– 24 in all. I can’t remember the last time any diocese around here ordained anywhere near 24 priests in a year. Three more priests became auxiliary bishops, most likely reducing their availability for ordinary parish work.

    I also stopped at St. Paul and grabbed a bulletin. No talk of closure or merger there– the Paulists will take care of that. I concede that other agendas may be at work here in the background, but the very genuine priest shortage gives excellent cover for such agendas.

    Now that the seminaries are coming back under the control of the orthodox, we need to get them cranking out orthodox vocations, fast. Please pray for vocations. A parish can be financially poor and sparsely-attended, and the plaster can be falling from the ceiling, but it can’t do without priests.

  13. boko fittleworth says:

    I don’t doubt that there are some that want Holy Innocents closed for ideological reasons, but it seems like it’s the real estate value that is the real issue. That’s some really valuable land. Location, location, location. So the problem isn’t staffing the parish. That can be done. The problem isn’t that the parish isn’t paying its own way – it is. The problem is that the land the church sits on is just so valuable. The money they could get for it is a real temptation. The archdiocese could do a lot with that money, and some of it might even be good. But I hope the good the parish does weighs more in the balance than does the cash. But, to paraphrase Back to School, “In fairness to Cardinal Dolan here, it is a very big check.”

  14. Gaz says:

    From half a world away, there are two things that strike me about the situation at Holy Innocents. Firstly, there is a daily high Mass. How many churches in the world see a daily high Mass? Most of us who appreciate tradition can only dream of daily high Mass. In my diocese, I know not of any daily sung Mass in any form. We have two Sunday Masses scheduled in the extraordinary form and they are 230km (140miles) apart. Secondly, how many of those daily high Masses are in monasteries, dedicated EF communities or houses of formation, ‘personal’ parishes, or places where there is a dedicated chaplain? As far as I understand, Holy Innocents enjoys NONE of these supports, which makes this community all the more extraordinary (pun intended). Of course I pray for the Holy Innocents community because I know they very effectively pray for me (much in need of those prayers, by the way) as a lowly subscriber to the universal Church founded by Christ himself, our Universal King.

  15. Nancy D. says:

    Voice of The Vatican:


    Our Lady of Fatima, Pray for us!

  16. robtbrown says:

    I know Fr Wylie is no longer able to say mass at Holy Innocents, but is he no longer a member of the Vatican delegation to the UN?

  17. HighMass says:

    acardnal, do you happen to know Cardinal Dolan’s email address???

    Also wonder if this was a N.O. parish if they would be targeted….lets face it folks we may have gotten a go ahead from Pope Benedict, but there are alot of clergy who hate the TLM.

  18. incredulous says:

    I think VOA did a good job with this clip. It may garner some converts.

    I find it odd that on occasion the poster child of a true government propaganda mouthpiece (VOA) has less biased reporting than MSNBC. I’d forgotten how I enjoyed VOA broadcasts for unbiased reporting. LOL.

  19. To respond to HighMass’s query, the archdiocese’s original proposal is to reduce the number of parishes in Manhattan by about one-third, which includes many, many Novus Ordo parishes. Many such parishes have already been closed. While I don’t doubt that some in high places would welcome any opportunity to beat back the extraordinary form, this is about lots more than that. As I have emphasized, the priest shortage is almost certainly the number one issue. I place the value of the real estate number two and high maintenance costs spread over thinning congregations as number three.

  20. PA mom says:

    The comments on the priest shortage have me thinking.

    Are there any high church Anglicans remaining in NYC who might be considering a change to the ordinariate/looking for a parish home? Are there current Ordinariate priests in formation in that diocese who might be looking for a place to gather a flock? Might that be a perfect complement to the Latin Mass community, broadening the use and funds of the parish, and adding staffing (a priest) of its own?

    Perhaps over time, he might choose to return such generousity and learn the Old Mass as well.

    [Maybe the whole community at “Smokey Mary” could convert and they could all join forces.]

  21. ngf70 says:

    To respond to Andrew Saucci, the evidence that this is not really about the priest shortage is undeniable. The committee appointed by Cardinal Dolan to make final recommendations to him, the Archdiocesan Advisory Group, made preliminary recommendations to close several Manhattan churches run by religious orders , parishes that pose no staffing challenge to the Archdiocese at all.

    For example, they recommended merging and closing the Church of St. John the Baptist staffed by the Capuchins and the Church of St. Catherine of Sienna staffed by the Dominicans. Both parishes have (1) good finances (2) well maintained buildings with no structural problems and (3) vibrant faith communities. In comparison, there are dozens of parishes in Manhattan that are not as healthy, but will be kept open, even though the Archdiocese must staff them itself. Why? These two parishes are on extremely valuable real estate.

    As part of the Making All Things New process (the name the Archdiocese has given this down-sizing effort), the Church of the Holy Innocents was assigned to the same cluster of parishes as St. John the Baptist, St. Francis of Assisi and Ss. Cyril & Methodius. Some of the information about this Cluster has been made public. The Archdiocesan Advisory Group added an additional parish to the cluster, St. Michael, and recommended merging and closing three of the five parishes in the cluster (Holy Innocents, St. John and St. Michael).

    Setting aside the rationale they gave for these recommendations (and the canard about the priest shortage), it is clear that real estate values were the driving factor. The three parishes they recommended merging and closing had the highest real estate values (in part because none had sold its valuable air rights) and the two they recommended keeping open had the lowest real estate values (in part because each has already sold its air rights), St. Francis of Assis and Ss. Cyril and Methodius.

    What other reason can there by for recommending closure of St. John the Baptist, a very old parish near Penn Station run by the same religious order for more than 125 that is financially stable and self sufficient, that is in a architecturally significant building which is both well maintained and structurally sound, that has a vibrant faith community, a shrine to St. Pio, a vigorous confession schedule and a ministry to commuters? It all about the money.

    In the case of Holy Innocents, the parish is also financially healthy, with a church building that is in good condition and a vibrant faith community. If the Archdiocese were really concerned about the priest shortage, they could simply invite the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to staff Holy Innocents.

    The priest shortage is, thus, manifestly not the number one issue in this process. In my opinion, it is not even number two, or number three. It may be on the list somewhere perhaps but the top three spots on the list should read: (1) money, (2) money and (3) money. If the Archdiocese were really concerned about the priest shortage, they might have saved the $50,000 or more per month they were paying their parish closing consultant to spend instead on a consultant who could help them figure out why they have one of the worst vocations records in the country. I myself would be happy to take their money to tell them that it is because they are hostile (dare I say they persecute?) seminarians and priests who are drawn to Catholic tradition.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    Lovely idea that “Smoky Mary’s” would convert and come over wholesale, but unfortunately they are in the same position as my former Episcopal parish.
    They have splendid music. They love the vestments, the ‘smells and bells’, and superficially they appear to be ‘more Roman than Rome’ as we used to say. But it’s all external appearances.

  23. Athelstan says:

    Andrew Saucci,

    As I have emphasized, the priest shortage is almost certainly the number one issue.

    If that’s really true, the easy solution is readily at hand: Invite in an Ecclesia Dei society like the FSSP or ICK. Either would jump at the chance to take on this apostolate.

    In any case, closing Holy Innocents would be a brutal irony, given that it has produced more than its share of vocations in recent years.

    I still say that the high real estate value is the greatest driving motivator at work here.

Comments are closed.