The last Mass took place at St. Joseph’s Church on Monroe Street this past Friday. St. Joseph’s and St. James Church, located at 22 James St., were merged with the Church of the Transfiguration as part of the largest reorganization in the history of the New York archdiocese. But angry parishioners say they’re not prepared to give up the fight just yet.
A July 27 article in the Daily News made no mention of the predominant ethnic group at St. Joseph’s — Chinese immigrants from the Fujian province. There are definitely a sizable number of Latino parishioners, many of whom will likely switch to St. Teresa’s on Henry Street. It will, no doubt, be a tough transition for them. But for the Chinese population at St. Joseph’s, the situation is more complicated.
The other night we spoke with Joe Chen, whose father-in-law, Rocco Wong, has played a major role in protesting the archdiocese’s decision (Wong does not speak fluent English). Chen acknowledged that their pastor, Father Lino Gonsalves, has encouraged Chinese parishioners to attend Mass at Transfiguration.
But Chen explained that it’s not an option many Fujianese take very seriously. Transfiguration is a stalwart in Chinatown, but heavily Cantonese. The cultures are very different. “Ninety-nine percent (of the Fujianese parishioners at St. Joseph’s) won’t go to Transfiguration,” Chen said. “We’re pretty mad about what they did behind our backs. It seems like they just saw St. Joe’s as a financial asset.” Chen added that around 300-400 people regularly attended the Chinese-language masses at St. Joseph’s. During major holidays, that number rose to more than 1500.
Last month, City Council member Margaret Chin sent a letter to Cardinal Timothy Dolan to express her own concerns about the closure of St. Joseph’s Church. Transfiguration, she noted, has room for only 350 parishioners (the church is smaller than either St. Joseph’s or St. James). St. James, a city landmark, was closed in 2011 after a fire. The two churches have been jointly operated for the past eight years.
“I am deeply concerned,” said Chin that the proposed merger will scatter the tight-knit community… resulting in a severe decrease in membership in any merged parish.” She added that the parish population has grown by about 100 each year for the past five years. She implored the cardinal to meet with a parish committee that formed several moths ago to advocate for keeping the church open.
A leader of that committee, Victor Papa, also wrote to Cardinal Dolan last month. His letter acknowledged the inevitable merger with Transfiguration, but advocated for keeping St. Joseph’s open to serve its devoted communities. In a response, Dolan did not address the proposal to operate the churches under the umbrella of a single parish. He simply stated that an appeal of the merger decision had been declared “inadmissible” by the Vatican and that the decision by the archdiocese was not subject to change.
He left the door slightly open if new information is presented to the archdiocese. The committee responded by sending Dolan more detailed arguments in favor of their proposal. They are awaiting a reply.
Meanwhile, the front door at St. Joseph’s has been padlocked.