St. Veronica's Church, on Christpher Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets, will close this summer. Photo: Martin Furtschegger, via Wikimedia Commons
BY ESTELLE PYPER
A large sign attached to the gates of St. Veronica’s Church on Christopher Street reads: “Help us keep St. Veronica Open.”
Draped on the black iron gate at the front of the Greenwich Village church, the sign includes a plea for community involvement. “This is your church. Do not abandon it,” the sign reads in both English and Spanish.
After serving as a place of worship and communal gathering for more than 120 years, plans to close the historic building are imminent, with a last Mass scheduled for June 25, according to parishioner and church advocate Terri Cook. Cook, though, said an “alumni” Mass would be celebrated July 23 at which the community will also be welcome.
Churchgoers assume the closing is due to the dwindling attendance and decreasing membership. The Rev. Santiago Rubio, the church’s pastor since 2010, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
But Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, suggested that St. Veronica’s 2006 merger with the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard’s, on West 14th Street, was a determining factor.
“The parish was merged a decade ago with Our Lady of Guadalupe parish and the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe has decided that the church is no longer needed for Mass and sacraments on a regular basis,” Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said.
The merger essentially meant the parish had two churches, Zwilling said, adding that he was not sure whether declining attendance also had an effect on the decision to close St. Veronica’s. “It’s all one unit but two different sites — and so that pastor has just decided now to combine everything into one site,” he said.
Cook said the dwindling of Masses and other church functions led to the loss of congregants.
“The congregation of St. Veronica’s has been starved out little by little. It’s such a crime because it is such a wonderful church,” she said. “I’m so annoyed.”
Just two Masses are held at the church, both of them on Sundays: one at 10 a.m. (which Cook suggested is too early for the Greenwich Village community), followed by a Spanish Mass at 11:30.
Churchgoers and community members want to keep the space alive, regardless of whether services continue at St. Veronica’s. Cook and other congregants meet weekly to discuss possible futures for the church. While they recognize the church will close, they are still trying to attract more members, increase the number of services and ensure that the building remains a community space.
“We know the church is going to close, but we’re fortunate that it won’t be torn down,” Cook said. “So we know we have time to keep working on this and to keep on making noise and putting pressure on the (Archdiocese of New York).” They write letters to church officials, collect signatures for a petition (they now have over 300) and raise money for church upkeep restorations.
Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, lamented the church’s closure. “It would be very sad for it to no longer function as a house of worship or at the very least as some communal gathering place,” he said.
Berman and others mainly fear the loss of the church’s extensive history. The burgundy Victorian Gothic building has been a presence within the community since the 1890s, originally built as a place of worship for the growing Catholic population, many of them Irish immigrants. During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ‘90s, the church opened its doors to those affected by the disease, and built a memorial for its victims.
St. Veronica’s and much of the surrounding area were landmarked in 2006 as part of an extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District, as a result of efforts by Berman and GVSHP, preventing the demolition and alteration of the church’s exterior.
“We did it because it’s architecturally significant and worthy of preservation,” Berman said. He added that although the church’s exterior is safe, the interior is could be subject to alterations.
“What’s so wonderful and important about spaces like these is they are places where people come together and have a shared experience,” he said. “We’d love to see it continue on as it has been. If that’s not the case, we’d ideally love to see it turned into some sort of use where it remained accessible to the public.”
The congregation and GVSHP continue to reach out to the priest and the surrounding community in hopes of maintaining the church. Once St. Veronica’s closes, members are expected to move to St. Bernard’s for services.
“None of us want to go there,” Cook said with a sigh. “The church has seen almost every phase of growth that New York City has. What’s in the church has never changed since 1903. That is why it is so important.”