UPPER EAST SIDE — It's been nearly two years since Our Lady of Peace Church was shuttered by the Archdiocese of New York and forced to merge with another church, but loyal members still gather daily outside in rain, snow or shine, to light candles and pray that it will one day open again.
Since the East 62nd Street church closed in summer 2015, its congregation has been fighting to reopen it through petitions, letters, fundraisers and by defiantly celebrating mass outside the shuttered parish instead of using their new home at St. John the Evangelist, which was merged with Our Lady of Peace.
"[Our Lady of Peace has] never really been left alone since it closed," said Tami Ellen McLaughlin, who has been attending the church for the past 15 years.
"Even when there were one or two instances of a blizzard or in the pouring rain. People stop by, light a candle, say a prayer, leave flowers, so she's never really alone. We have to keep fighting."
In the spring of 2015, before the church officially closed, members formed a working group called the Friends of Our Lady of Peace, hired lawyers and appealed the Archdiocese's decision to close the church.
But on Jan. 10, they were crushed to receive a letter from the Vatican's Congregation of the Clergy, which rules on such matters, saying that it will uphold the decision to merge Our Lady of Peace with St. John the Evangelist, located on East 55th Street, near First Avenue.
The appeal included five volumes of information about the church's history, its vibrancy, solvency, and the mission of the parish, according to the Friends group, which now plans to make another appeal to the Vatican's highest ruling body, its supreme court, or Apostolic Signatura.
Friends of Our Lady of Peace would not share the Dec. 28 letter with DNAinfo New York, saying their lawyers advised them against it due to the pending appeal.
"We have yet to be given a sufficient reason for the closure of our church," said Shane Dinneen, president of the Friends group. "Our Lady of Peace was one of the few churches in Manhattan with growing attendance, positive cash flow and no liabilities."
Our Lady of Peace opened in 1918 and had a congregation of about 430 members before it closed.
"What's more, Our Lady of Peace was a vibrant community of faith that welcomed all through her doors," Dinneen said.
Over months, the group has gathered nearly 4,000 signatures for a petition to reopen the church and raised $500,000 to show they could support the church for 10 years if given the chance.
The Victorian gothic church was designated as a landmark in 1967 within the Treadwell Farm historic district. It is also listed as part of the New York State and National Register of Historic Places.
The church, which is still owned by the Archdiocese of New York, has been standing empty at 237 E. 62nd St. since its congregation was told to leave.
"We are disappointed and dissatisfied with the decision,” said Janice Dooner Lynch, a member of the Friends of Our Lady of Peace.
“We submitted very strong evidence that Our Lady of Peace Church should be reopened for weekly Masses and the sacraments. Our next step is to appeal ... and pray that they will see the merits of our case.”