By George Capsis
As I waited for a ham sandwich at an outside table at Eric’s Restaurant on Hudson Street, I became aware of a gray-haired (and as I confirmed later) Irish-American lady walking towards me, trying to figure out if I was indeed the ‘George of WestView’. “Are you George?” she asked, followed by, “Are we going to get St. Veronica’s?”
Well, right now, just hours from press time, the answer is, I don’t know.
If you read the August issue of WestView, you know that our very skilled fundraiser Nicole Ferris brought a potted plant to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s 25th floor office (nobody gets to the 25th floor). After exchanging Irish Catholic biographies with Kathleen, his secretary, Nicole gave her the plant and requested that our proposal, to convert the shuttered St. Veronica’s Church on Christopher Street (facing the Archive Building) into a concert hall, be placed lovingly on the Cardinal’s desk. Kathleen, all smiles, assured her that it would.
We waited a week and received a formal letter on fancy Archdiocese stationery politely explaining that, “with fewer than 100 attending Sunday Mass,” they could not keep St. Veronica’s open (for Mass that is). Well, we had, as you may recall, asked to convert the white-marbled-interior mini-cathedral into a concert hall. We did not ask to keep it open for church services.
I emailed back to explain the error and got no response. I figured out that the person who looked at every document or email sent to the Cardinal had decided that the plea for a concert hall was coming from some of the distraught parishioners. And, when I kept sending emails to the effect of, “No, we don’t want Sunday Mass, we want Sunday Concerts,” that person said (to herself) “Whoops, the Cardinal had better not see my dumb error,” and sent emails to internet purgatory.
I persisted and got on the phone with David S. Brown, the Director of the Archdiocese’s Real Estate Division. I repeated my questions to his second-in-command, Ed Newman: “Is St. Veronica’s for sale?” The answer was, “No.” My other question was, “Is St. Veronica’s for rent?” The answer to that was, “Good question. I don’t know.”
I emotionally ranged about seeking some line of argument that Mr. Archdiocese Real Estate (Brown) would seize but Catholic business logic, like the religion, only knows for sure what you can’t do. On the same fancy stationery, Brown offered, “Public performances by a private party are typically not favored in our assessment of alternate uses, as this requires oversight and safeguards not easily undertaken by either parish or a third party.”
The letter ended suggesting that, although the elders of St. Veronica’s (the descendants of the Irish dockworkers that built it 120 years ago) had moved on to other churches, St. Veronica’s had been merged with the nearby 14th Street church—Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard’s. (There are 420 units in WVH.) Since that now formed THE parish, I had to talk to its priest and, I suppose, to the lay officers who had inherited the derelict building by default.
As chance would have it, on the very day I got the formal letter from Mr. Archdiocese Real Estate (August 7th), the New York Times ran a long-ish article entitled “18 Shuttered Catholic Churches May Soon Be Up for Sale.” Although St. Veronica’s had not yet made the list, the piece told a sad story of the largest number of New York Catholic churches being offered for sale in a single day.
Aggressively batting back questions from the press was Joseph Zwilling, the Director of Communications for the Archdiocese. This was the back-and-forth:
“Will some of them be sold?” “I imagine so.”
“Will some of them be leased? “I imagine so.”
Fifteen churches were closed in 2015 when the Archdiocese consolidated 140 parishes. With Manhattan real estate as valuable as it is, many of the closed churches will probably become condos. Unfortunately, St. Veronica’s is landmarked so only the interior can be converted to, say, a private house.
Brown ends his letter by directing me back to the merged parish: “Ultimately it is a decision for the parish after consulting with the Archdiocese, once a plan of action is formulated. If the parish is interested in furthering a relationship with you, a representative will be in contact.” (In other words, don’t call us, we will call you.)
Well, Father Rubio is just about to return from Mexico where he had a month-long vacation with his family. Before he left, I called him and asked if I could rent or buy St. Veronica’s and he said, “You have to call David Brown.” I did that but he never called me back.
The bottom line is that somebody goofed and they could not let the Cardinal see our proposal and learn of the error. They just want me to go away. But, of course, I won’t. St. Veronica’s will make a lovely concert hall which seniors should be able to attend for free.
What do you, the former parishioners of St. Veronica’s, think about buying the church that your grandparents help to build and turning it into a concert hall?
Ex-parishioners and readers, please write to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and say that you want St. Veronica’s to become a place in which to hear and be inspired by great music—please. Address your letters to Cardinal Dolan but also send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or WestView, 69 Charles Street, New York, NY 10014.