Holy Wars: Schism Over Future of Chelsea’s French Church

 

untitled-1684.jpgParishioners at St. Vincent de Paul‘s church at 123 West 23rd Street are unhappy that the Catholic Church (the archdiocese of New York, not the building where they attend mass) is trying to shutter their house of worship, where services are conducted in French. Opponents of the closure are attempting to get St. Vincent de Paul’s (SVdP) landmarked, which is something they continue to do despite repeated declines by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to oblige them. Even France’s president Nikolas Sarkozy weighed in on behalf of French-language worshippers via a letter sent to Mayor Bloomberg.

The trouble began in 2007, when SVdP appeared on a list of churches to be closed and parishes to be merged because of declining attendance citywide and ecclesiastic belt-tightening. Parishioners of SVdP hail from all around the world, however—”France, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Switzerland, Togo and elsewhere”—and argue that the lingua franca spoken at the 170-year-old neo-Classical church made it worth saving. One major obstacle to achieving landmark status is that neo-Classical facade, which was a 1939 replacement of the original Romanesque Revival style executed by an architect of little distinction, according to the LPC.

SVdP defenders counter that the original Romanesque Revival brownstone facade is still intact behind the neo-Classical addition of 1939. In addition, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation found St. Vincent de Paul eligible for inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, noting that it was “an outstanding intact example of the Neoclassical style specifically inspired by Roman architecture. It retains a high degree of integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association…” As for the neo-Classical exterior redesign, defenders claim that SVdP is one of the few remaining neo-Classical churches built during the 1920s and 1930s in New York City.
· A French Church Nears Its End, but Not Without a Contretemps [NYT]
· Architectural Merit [Save St. Vincent de Paul]