Across New York City, century-old churches are being torn down and replaced by residential property, retail stores and newer churches. Today, despite problems like lack of funding and diminishing attendance, surrounding neighborhoods plan to save these churches. The same battle now faces Saint Vincent de Paul, the last remaining Francophone Catholic church in NYC.
In Chelsea, St. Vincent De Paul has always had a diverse community. It was founded in the 1840s as a response to the French members leaving the Catholic church to join Protestant churches that held masses in French. Annet Lafont, who was a member of the French missionary order Peresde la Misericorde, founded St. Vincent’s to support racial equality. When Lafont opened St. Vincent’s school, he invited African American students to attend, because he believed they deserved the same education as the rest of the population. The church had also been a space of refuge to the children of French Jews during World War II. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, many Haitian people joined the church because of incredible amount of violence and political turmoil happening in Haiti at the time.
The church was initially designed in the Romanesque Revival style by Henry Engelber. Later in 1939, Anthony J. DePace designed a new façade for the church in the Classical Revival style.
Today Saint Vincent de Paul is faced with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York’s plans to close the church. In early 2011, the church requested that the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission protect it by way of its designation as a landmark. Most recently in 2012, the church has asked people to send a pre-written email to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and NYC Landmarks Preservation Chair Robert Tierney. The email asks NYC Landmarks Commission to landmark this structure.
As the church continues to fight for its preservation, the church continues to hold mass in French as the last Francophone Catholic church in New York City.
For more news about churches in danger, check out our post on Church of Mary Help of Christians.
Get in touch with the author @mariauntapped.