A key part of New York City’s history and a small but passionate Catholic parish may soon disappear under an avalanche of debt. St. Joseph’s Chapel served for months as a command center during and after the 9/11 attacks, reviving first responders and later workers in both body and spirit. The parishioners transformed the chapel into a memorial for those lost in the attacks after renovating and rededicating it in 2005. However, the landlord for the space tripled its rent three years ago, and the archdiocese has now said it cannot continue loaning the parish the money to pay its bills. Without some new source of donations or some relief on its rent, the chapel that served New York City in its darkest days may soon go dark itself:
Parishioners at a New York City chapel that sheltered 9/11 first responders are praying for a miracle to save it from falling victim itself to the prosperity of its resurgent neighborhood.
St. Joseph’s Chapel is living on archdiocese subsidies after the rent tripled in 2014 to $264,000 a year. …
Emergency workers and volunteers took out its pews and used the chapel as a command center for several months. Rescue workers slept on its floors. Priests celebrated Mass in a tent outside.
St. Joseph’s was rededicated in 2005 as a memorial to those who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks, with statues including St. Florian, patron saint of firefighters, and St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of police officers.
“Everything about the space is a 9/11 memorial,” Cuccia said.
In a New York Times report two weeks ago, one parishioner questioned the city’s pledge to “never forget”:
St. Joseph’s is the only house of worship in Battery Park City, a park-filled, state-run enclave of roughly 13,000 residents just west of the World Trade Center site. Once a largely middle-class neighborhood, it is now a place of luxury apartments and high-end shopping malls.
“The world ended, and everyone said, ‘Never forget,’” said Amy McCarthy Koethe, 52, a parishioner whose memories of the attacks are so vivid that she still cries when she recounts them. “We are essentially making people forget, because we have basically sanitized Battery Park City of every single reminder of the attacks.”
Perhaps the first question to get answered would be why the rent tripled in 2014. Certainly the area’s value went up as the damage from 9/11 was repaired, which is understandable. However, this chapel played a significant role in that process. Maybe the property changed hands and the new price required a rent recalculation; it appears to have been legal, anyway. Neither the AP nor NBC note any challenge to the rent increase in their stories, at least not in court.
However, given the role played by St. Joseph’s Chapel in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, this isn’t primarily a question of legality. It’s a question of history, of commitment, and of honor. This parish stood up for the city and the heroes during and after 9/11 who rebuilt the area. We can only hope and pray that New Yorkers find it in their hearts to stand by the parish now and in the future so that they can continue to honor those who lost their lives, and to pray for the city.