Catholics save relics from out-of-business W’burg church

The Brooklyn Paper
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Workers saved an historic bell and other artifacts from an out-of-business church in Williamsburg days before the edifice was turned over to a new owner who may level the whole N. Sixth Street complex.

The Brooklyn Diocese spent much of last Thursday furiously removing stained glass windows, an altar, and a two-ton bronze bell from the vacant 142-year-old St. Vincent De Paul Church, which was sold after the struggling religious organization decided that it was too expensive to maintain.

The 2,977-pound, 130-year-old bronze bell — blessed by Brooklyn’s first Catholic bishop, Rev. John Loughlin — was the key relic.

It and the other religious objects will remain in the Diocese’s East New York warehouse until they are claimed by other parishes in Brooklyn and Queens for use.

The sight of the bell being removed from its tower unnerved neighbors who were baptized at the church and sent their children to its school.

“This is an emotional day,” said Williamsburg resident Michelle Rodecker, who hosted Neighbors Allied for Good Growth’s first meeting in the church’s basement. “I can see the church from my apartment and I used to watch its cross swaying in the wind.”

The three-story brick building was designed by prolific religious architect Patrick Keely in 1869, but has fallen into disrepair — a tree has been growing in its bell tower, the roof is riddled with holes from missing bricks and shingles, and the chapel’s cross was removed two years ago because nearly fell off.

Neighborhood church leaders estimated it would cost close to $4 million to repair the church — but with a dwindling congregation and depleted funds, the Diocese signed off on the sale as part of a spate of church mergers throughout Brooklyn last April.

The church is not a city landmark but its zoning only permits residential development up to 50 feet tall and the church has its own clause prohibiting any sort of “sordid use” of the property such as a bar or liquor-serving restaurant.

“It’s not OK to close down the church and put up a strip bar,” said Joseph Calise, pastor of the nearby Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Other residents hoped the church would not be replaced with a shiny, new condominium complex.

“It’s not a landmark? Wow!” said Williamsburg resident Ruth Rodriguez. “All you see now is big buildings — they need to keep a litle bit of old Brooklyn here.”

For much of the 20th century, St. Vincent’s and its primary school served Williamsburg’s Irish-American immigrants, while Italian-Americans gravitated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Havemeyer Street; and Lithuanian-Americans and German Catholics worshipped at Blessed Virgin Mary of the Annunciation three blocks south on N. Fifth Street,

In recent years, St. Vincent’s was renamed St. Ann’s Cathedral and became home to a small Armenian popluation, but the Brooklyn Diocese closed it in 2005.

Reach reporter Aaron Short at or by calling (718) 260-2547.
Updated 5:28 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
No irony for the capital of irony?--that the demographic shifts brought upon by gentrification have rushed the closing of this church? That the very historical seat of one of the principals of gentrification in the area, NAG, should make comment about seeing "from across the street"--now there is no irony? I mean, there is all this sad coyness about why this church has "gone out of business" [what a hoot]--let's not half-step it.

Boricua College is across the street from this church. Boricua College is also significant in that it housed meetings from NAG's previous incarnation--WOOP [Williamsburg Organized for an Open Process]. Maybe Brooklyn Paper would be intelligent to keep a calendar just for Boricua College, to count down its days before someone watches "across the street" at its dismantling.
Dec. 6, 2011, 9:15 am
TG from Williamsburg says:
How much did the church/site sell for?
Dec. 6, 2011, 11:55 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
TG from Williamsburg, a friend sent me the link to the official decree by the Brooklyn Diocese regarding the above matters:
Dec. 6, 2011, 1:47 pm
Voltaire from Williamsburg says:
Though it’s sad to loose a pretty building, this is a net gain. It's always encouraging to see the visible signs of the dwindling hold of the shackles of religious superstition and Catholic narrow-mindedness / bigotry over people's minds--guess who's actively trying to interfere with our State government to undo marriage equality? The less influence that organized religion has over our society, the more hope there is for the survival of our planet.
Dec. 6, 2011, 2:22 pm
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
I don't agree about "Catholic superstition", but if you feel strong enough about the beauty of the building, and possibly fostering future intellectual activity, then continue thinking about higher education in the neighborhood [if you're not already doing so]. Like, how attractive to you is a small college at this site? And coupling with Boricua College across the street, that North 6th can possibly become a corridor for curiosity and inquiry and human advancement? Wouldn't that be more meaningful, significant and possibly even financially lucrative than luxury condominium lego blocks?
Dec. 6, 2011, 2:40 pm
Nuts from the Can says:
Money talks-
Up with the Lego Blocks.
Dec. 6, 2011, 4:14 pm
Altairi Boughie from Billburgo says:
Think of all the little kids who heard that bell ringing while some gross old priest had his hands down their pants. It breaks your heart.
Dec. 6, 2011, 6:10 pm
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
Okay, hardy har har. Got it out of your system, yet? Or rather, would you rather it be in your system, given the weird fetish of your jokes?

Is there anyone else interested in converting this school into a magnum library and school? Or, are we all 12? A technology center--anyone? Of course it is in line with Williamsburg's irony that a small but serious engineering school could bloom in a decommissioned sanctuary. The money is there, no question. But is the imagination?
Dec. 6, 2011, 6:23 pm
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
By the way, Nuts from the Can, did you know the City proposes to make New york an "engineering capital" and is pumping their future development dollars into such initiatives? That it expects the development of an elite engineering school by notable tech colleges, generating revenue upwards of $6 billion in the next 25 years?

I'm serious--if you continue to put your money in Lego blocks while quantum mechanics is being figured out across the East River, then you're going to find that, indeed, money talks, and will drown you out.
Dec. 6, 2011, 6:43 pm
BonTon from WTerrace says:
Dennis is trying to help people see what Brooklyn and the city is losing forever with the destruction and closing of these community mainstays and historical gems. Sadly, he's talking to a readership that's fed a regular diet of smug nonsense and sex-toy stories from the BP, which didn't even cover the announced closing of 2 Catholic schools in Windsor Terrace last week, affecting over 400 kids. Too busy with another condom or porn story, I guess.
Dec. 10, 2011, 10:15 am
Bob from Williamsburg says:
Boricua College used to be St. Francis high school, my Irish uncle attended it. Time marches on...
Dec. 12, 2011, 8:12 pm
Saint Vincent De Paul from Life says:
All my years spent in those school buildings and many more followed through church attendance into my adulthood with no priests hands down my pants or up my skirt . No respect at all for religion left... so very sad. I for one have my faith and was born and raised in Saint Vincent De Paul church and school. Many wonderful memories and strong friendships were made there. Some of our parents and priest worked hard and strong to keep it going, but as the older people passed away and the younger people turned is the result of this very sad ending.
Dec. 14, 2011, 4:52 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
Thank you, BonTon--you're the example that not everyone here reads BP for sexual and criminal titillation. Please continue contributing to these discussions--the more of us who want advancement in Brooklyn will eventually get It.
Dec. 17, 2011, 9:54 am
Rtk scully from Park slope says:
What has become of the Armenian congregation that relied on the church as their gathering place?
Oct. 2, 2016, 7:22 am

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