Lower East Side Embraces Renovated St. Brigid-St. Emeric Church
By SOCRATES PALMER JR.
Maria R. Bastone
HOME—The newly renamed and renovated St. Brigid-St. Emeric Church on Manhattan’s Lower East Side opens at the Jan. 27 Mass of dedication and consecration celebrated by Cardinal Dolan.

A sea of humanity engulfed the steps leading up to the entrance of the newly renamed church of St. Brigid-St. Emeric.

On Sunday, Jan. 27, an estimated 400 faithful souls waited patiently for the first Mass to be celebrated inside the historic Manhattan church that had been dormant for nearly 12 years.

The renovated St. Brigid-St. Emeric Church is a quaint structure, reconstructed in the image of its 1848 predecessor.

Cardinal Dolan served as the principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass of dedication and consecration. Cardinal Egan joined him as a concelebrant at the English- and Spanish-language liturgy.

In his homily, Cardinal Dolan praised all who had patiently waited for the church’s reopening and welcomed those in attendance to their new home. He drew a parallel between the renovation of the church and the need for Catholics to constantly seek how to improve their lives.

“This is a day of gratitude and we are here today to celebrate the renovation of two churches, a church that welcomes everybody and has for so many years,” the cardinal said. “When we dedicate a church like we are doing today, the church building reminds us and teaches us of the mystery of the Church. God’s presence will be here through His holy word, through the Eucharist and through prayers and worship,” he added.

After the Scripture readings, the cardinal conducted the ceremonial ritual of anointing the altar and church walls. He asked for God to make the altar and the church holy and visible signs of the mystery of Christ and His Church. This was followed by the incensation of the altar and the church by Father Lorenzo Ato, the newly appointed pastor.

“This is a new home for the faithful to find rest and comfort,” Father Ato said. “I look forward to seeing the growth of the various prayer groups and committees that are active here in this church continue to grow. We have a great future.”

The church’s reopening could be compared to a childhood friend returning home to the old neighborhood. “It has a lot of memories for me,” said Lillian Flecha. “I have had an aunt and a cousin married in this church, my nephews were baptized here and when my oldest brother passed away, we had his Funeral Mass here.”

Ms. Flecha said she regularly attended Mass there with her mother, Georgina Flecha, who succumbed to cancer during the time the church was being renovated.

Ms. Flecha described the church as a second home for her mother. It was her mother’s goal, she said, to give something back to the sacred place. “I am here representing my mother and in her name I am putting $100 in the collection basket which is what her dream was to do but, unfortunately, due to circumstances she did not get the chance.”

In 2008, the archdiocese announced that an anonymous donor had pledged $20 million to restore St. Brigid. The gift included funding for the restoration of the building, the establishment of an endowment and money to support the parish elementary school.

For more than 30 years, Epifanio Ayabar has resided less than six blocks from the church. “I hope that its presence can be a calming influence to some of our youth,” he said, as well as “an outlet for them to learn about morality.”

At the turn of the 19th century—before the area of the Lower East Side of Manhattan presently known as Alphabet City, a district within the East Village, was to become a trendy haven for hipsters and bohemians—St. Brigid, located at 119 Avenue B, served as a sanctuary for the Catholic community.

Built by laborers predominantly of Irish, Hungarian and German descent, its doors remained opened for decades as the neighborhood saw the migration of numerous other ethnic groups.

The church building was closed in 2001 because of its deteriorating structure and faced the possibility of demolition after a ruling by the New York State Supreme Court.

In the intervening years, some St. Brigid’s parishioners traveled to nearby St. Emeric’s Church at 740 E.13th St. for worship. Renaming the newly restored church building, St. Brigid-St. Emeric, bridges the two parishes.

During the Mass, Cardinal Dolan praised Cardinal Egan for his work in seeing the project to completion.

At the end of the liturgy, as a token of appreciation, Cardinal Egan was presented with a bronze statue of St. Michael the Archangel.

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