Catholic School Statue Pushed to Parking Lot as Charter Moves In

By Lindsay Armstrong on July 11, 2014 8:55am 

INWOOD — A Catholic school that closed its doors last year was forced to move all of its religious objects outside to make way for a charter school — including placing a prominent statue of its namesake saint in the parking lot.

Alumni were surprised when they walked by St. Jude on West 204th Street a few days ago and saw a statue of the saint, which formerly held a place of honor in the sanctuary, in the church's parking lot.

After a picture of the statue was posted to the school’s 400-person alumni Facebook group, several people expressed confusion as to why it had been placed outside rather than in the church and had concerns it might be vandalized.

Several alumni also wondered what had happened to the dozens of memorial plaques, which were originally purchased by church members, that had once surrounded the statue.

“If they did this, then whatever happened to all the names of the deceased parishioners?” asked one commenter. “Those plaques should go to the surviving families.”

But the church's head priest, the Rev. Elias Isla, said the statue and plaques will be incorporated into an outdoor sanctuary, though specific details of the plan were unclear.

Isla, who has been at the church for 29 years, said he plans to build an outdoor shrine around where the statue currently stands, surrounded by a small, fenced-in garden. The memorial plaques, which are currently being stored in the rectory, will be hung nearby on the back wall of the church, he added.

“What I’m doing there I think is very appropriate," Isla explained. "It’s dignified, and I think it’s very fair to the history of the people who helped to build St. Jude."

He hopes to have the project completed for a dedication ceremony on Oct. 28, the feast day of St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate cases. However, he did not say how much it would cost or what kind of materials would be used. It was also not clear where the funds would come from to build the shrine. Isla said the marble statue would hold up to the elements, but he did not offer specifics on any protections for the plaques from weather.

A call the Archdiocese of New York was not immediately returned. 

Other religious items removed from the building, including stained-glass windows and Stations of the Cross from the chapel, will be placed in storage, Isla said.

Under federal law, public schools, including charters, cannot display religious symbols, meaning all religious objects from the small chapel and sanctuary at the school must be removed.

The Archdiocese closed St. Jude School in June 2013 after 59 years due to budget constraints. Parents and alumni, who only found out about the closing two months before the final decision was made, banded together to come up with alternate funding sources, but their efforts fell short.

The church is still in operation, but the school building has been vacant for the past year.

Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School, which is renting the space, will move its fifth through eighth grades to the former St. Jude building for the coming school year, while the ninth grade will stay in the school’s current space on Isham Street, a representative from the school said.

Mike Jimenez, a St. Jude alumnus who started the Facebook group and fought to keep the school open, said he’s not against the plan to build the shrine, but wished Isla had sought input from the community.

“He didn’t think about how this would be perceived, like, 'Should I call the living relatives of the people who donated these plaques to ask their opinion?'” Jimenez said. “Communication is key, especially with what happened in the past year with the school closing.”

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