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Catholic Church's Closure Stuns Lower East Side Parishioners

By Lisha Arino | November 4, 2014 8:50am
 St. James and St. Joseph in the Lower East Side will merge with the Church of the Transfiguration in Chinatown next August, the Archdiocese of New York announced Sunday.
St. James and St. Joseph Parish to Close in August
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LOWER EAST SIDE — Debra DiBlase was stunned, hurt and confused by the archdiocese’s decision to close St. James and St. Joseph Catholic Church, where she has worshipped and worked for decades.

“It kills me. It makes me very sad,” she said Monday afternoon, a day after the Archdiocese of New York announced that the Monroe Street church would be one of nine Manhattan parishes to consolidate with other nearby congregations and cease weekly Masses next August.

St. James and St. Joseph will merge with the Church of the Transfiguration, located on Mott Street, the archdiocese said.

According to the Rev. Lino Gonsalves, pastor of St. James and St. Joseph, the plan will consolidate services and operations, but the closed churches could still be used for occasions like funerals and weddings.

St. James and St. Joseph will merge with Transfiguration, he said, because of their proximity and because Transfiguration’s school uses the building that once housed St. James’ school.

Gonsalves said the archdiocese received input from parishes and considered several factors when making their decision, including size.

Although St. James and St. Joseph was an active community, he said, it was rarely filled to capacity. Its five Sunday services altogether draw 600 to 700 worshippers each week, he said, but the church has a capacity for up to 1,100 people.

"I’m upset with it ... I understand there’s a merger, but why did our church have to close?" said Nancy Archipolo, who joined the parish in 1967.

DiBlase, who has worked as the parish secretary for 14 years, said its finances are sound and the building is in good condition.

“Why were we put on the chopping block?” she asked.

The Archdiocese of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Cardinal Timothy Dolan told parishioners in a letter distributed on Sunday that the merger was part of the archdiocese’s “Making All Things New” plan.

“The goal of Making All Things New was simple: to ensure that all of our parishes are active, vibrant communities of faith,” he wrote.

According to Dolan's letter, the archdiocese will have a transition team that will work with the parishioners and the pastors to help the mergers go smoothly.

"This will be a trying and testing time of transition, but I am confident that, two parishes joined together as one new parish, will create the strength that we planned for the future of the diocese," Dolan wrote.

Gonsalves said he felt for the parishioners but had faith in the archdiocese’s plan. An avid soccer fan, he likened the archdiocese to a manager of a professional sports team who works to make it successful.

“We have to accept how the manager of our team wants the team to be set up,” he said.

Still, the decision was hard on longtime members like DiBlase and Archipolo.

“It’s going to be a very sad day when the last Mass is going to be said here. There’s so many memories,” said Archipolo, tearing up. “I’m going to miss it.”