House tours conducted by local historical or preservation societies are a popular springtime activity in many towns and villages. Next month, Catholics and parish churches in the archdiocese and across New York state can participate in a similar program run by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
The conservancy’s Sacred Sites Open House Weekend is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 20-21. This year’s theme is “Stained Glass: Windows on This World and The Next.”
The seventh annual program is scheduled to include a number of Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn. As you might expect, St. Patrick’s Cathedral has already been signed up as a featured site for a pre-booked guided tour of its magnificently restored windows on Friday, May 19, beginning at 9 a.m.
St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, on Fort Washington Avenue in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, is offering self-guided tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both weekend days. According to a written description provided by the conservancy, the shrine’s stained glass “is remarkable because the designers and artisans combined two different approaches: pieced stained glass, and paint, to make the figures more lifelike.”
Highlights include a narrative of the life of Jesus inside the chapel and a three-story image of Mother Cabrini at the back of the chapel. “They have detail and shape unseen in mid-century or earlier works, even before considering the sheer size and description of the artwork,” the description explains. The work was designed by Fabian Zaccone in New York and fabricated by G. Pollini in Florence, Italy.
St. Peter’s Church is known as the Mother Church of Staten Island. The parish, now known as St. Peter-Assumption-St. Paul, was founded in 1839; Father Michael Cichon is the current pastor.
The Neo-Romanesque church on St. Mark’s Place is home to 50 stained glass windows produced by Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich. “We have a masterpiece on Staten Island,” said Margaret Moschetto, a pastoral associate. “They don’t have to go far to see splendor.”
St. Peter’s will take part in the open hour tour for the first time from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 21. Plans call for self-guided tours with brochures describing each of the church’s stained glass windows.
Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, stopped by Catholic New York’s office last week. She said she figured that CNY was precisely the vehicle to reach a Catholic audience for the Sacred Sites Open House Weekend. She said she hopes to enroll more churches across the archdiocese as well as let our readers know about the program’s particulars.
Speaking of churches, Ms. Breen said, “We think you should open your doors and tell your story.”
Ms. Breen shared her own heartwarming story of making a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral during a high school trip to New York City led by Sister Margaret Joseph, the honor society moderator at St. Mary’s Academy in Glens Falls. “It’s such an iconic piece of New York” that it’s on everyone’s list of places to visit when they come to town, she said.
Both churches on the major avenues of New York City and out-of-the-way churches can show off the architectural flourishes that make them special. Across New York state, 8,000 people visit 160 or 170 churches, Catholic and non-Catholic, during the open house weekend. Many are tourists visiting New York City, including a few who come specifically to visit churches each year.
Ann-Isabel Friedman, director of the Sacred Sites program, said parishes often find out about the conservancy through the open house weekend and then go on to apply for grants for their churches. The Sacred Sites program is the only statewide nonprofit program in the nation responding to the preservation needs of historic religious properties. It has awarded more than 1,300 grants totaling nearly $10 million to 760 congregations in New York, regardless of denomination.
Parishes seeking to participate in the open house weekend May 20-21 should be able to devote at least a couple of hours to the cause, Ms. Friedman said. By organizing a small team of staff members and parishioners willing to lead tours or perhaps provide an organ demonstration, churches can provide an appealing first look that may encourage visitors to return.
Parishes can consult the conservancy’s website for registration information, including a downloadable sign and a how-to guide for planning and promoting their participation: nylandmarks.org/events/sacred_sites_open_house/2017_sacred_sites_open_house/. A brochure for open house sites is at sacredsitesopenhouse.org.