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

Catholics save relics from out-of-business W’burg church
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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 [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.