15. St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church was built by survivors of the Irish Potato Famine
St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church, located at 123 Avenue B, has had quite a storied past. The parish was organized in 1847, and construction on the church began in 1848. It was built by recent immigrants who fled the Irish Potato Famine. Irish-American architect Patrick Keely, who immigrated in 1842, led the construction of the church, which originally was a haven for recent Irishmen who came to the U.S. with almost nothing. Reverend Thomas Mooney, the church’s second pastor, was a chaplain of the 69th New York Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the “Fighting Sixty-Ninth.” Poet Joyce Kilmer wrote about the unit in “When the 69th Comes Back,” which focuses on the regiment’s Irish history. Mooney’s dedication to the regiment was so great that he baptized a cannon, which may have led to his recall.
Mooney’s community activism continued with the 1863 draft riots, during which he organized members of the community to oppose federal troops. His support of the Irish regiment lasted until his death, which was around when the church’s demographics began to diversify. As different ethnic communities joined the church, its activism did not stop; during the 1970s and 1980s, the church helped keep the local community safe and fed, providing a space for community members to mobilize during the 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot. The church’s pastor was arrested for crossing the police line to deliver food to protestors during a series of 1989 riots.