Saturday, May 17, 2008

st francis of assisi church, manhattan

Last Wednesday, I took the day off (I had finished grading the night before) and decided to take walk through midtown. I started my day with Mass and Confession at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street. St. Francis is quite an institution in Manhattan. As you can tell from the picture, it's right in the middle of the city, surrounded by tall buildings. They have a number of daily masses and it's a popular site for confession. The Franciscans there do what Franciscans have done for eight hundred years -- they go to the middle of urban spaces, preach, and hear confessions. They also have a daily breadline, legal help for immigrants, a bookstore, a spirituality center, etc. It's a nice little island of prayer in the center of midtown madness. Their website features a story from the National Catholic Reporter that really gets the spirit of the place. An excerpt:
Where in the world (shrines apart) is there another church with no registered parishioners that has a pastor and 20 assistants, offers confessions 13 hours a day and utilizes 520-plus volunteers -- 250 for liturgical duties, 270 for social outreach? and has Br. Sebastian Tobin, a non-ordained friar, making sandals in the basement. This is a commuters' church such as is possible only in New York.

Daily at 7 a.m., as it has since 1929, the St. Francis Breadline -- a $600,000-plus-a-year project -- welcomes the hungry and homeless for coffee and sandwiches.

This St. Francis complex is as much beehive as parish. There are Franciscans everywhere. The friars are fire department and union chaplains, physicians, psychotherapists, canon lawyers, teachers, treasurers, magazine editors and the all-essential fundraisers. The parish has adult education programs, seniors groups and self-help meetings, Filipino Fellowship, Masses in Korean, devotions, novenas, stations, lecture series and outings. Catholic to the core.

At Br. William Mann's West 31st Street bookstore, even the thieves are Catholics. One elderly soul dropped an unpaid-for videocassette into her pocketbook. Mann asked her to replace it on the shelf. A hopeless case? The video was, "How to Make a Novena to St. Jude."

Hey, this is New York. If people rub St. Francis' bronze heels on West 32nd Street, someone knocked off most of the animals' heads on the St. Francis sculpture on West 31st Street.

St. Francis was also the home of Father Michal Judge, OFM, the NYFD chaplain who was the first official victim of the attacks of September 11th. I saw the first half of a documentary about him called Saint of 9/11, and he seems to have been quite a remarkable man. The film was good, too, and you can watch it on your computer if you have Netflix. In one chapel of the church there's beautiful stained glass memorial to the victims of 9/11. It shows a dove circling the base of one the WTC buildings while angels comfort two firefighters. A cross is imposed on the building and beams of light proceed from the cross. To the right, placed a position that is appropriately, for a minor friar, understated, is Father Judge, contemplating the light. A very moving tribute in a unique sacred space.


Garpu the Fork said...

I need to see "The Saint of 9/11." I seem to recall there being a good article on him in the Village Voice, of all places.

Liam said...

Yeah, I think I read that article.

Jeff said...

Great looking church, Liam. Urban Franciscan missions continue to do great work.

God Bless Father Judge, R.I.P.

crystal said...

So beautiful. There's nothing like that here in the wasteland of suburbia. Thanks for posting about these different churches - I followed your link to the cathedral in LA where the community of saints tapestry is and bougt a print of their bapistry tapestry :)

Liam said...

Jeff -- I imagine they must have something similar in Boston, right?

Liam said...


Yeah, we're really blessed to have so much good religious architecture here. Wherever we go next, I pray that (most importantly) we find a good parish with a good pastor and a real community, but also that we find a beautiful church.

There's actually a guy who has a blog that is dedicated to going to Mass at all the Catholic churches in Manhattan. It's got some great pictures and information.

cowboyangel said...

I stop in to St. Francis sometimes on my way to the Grad Center. My only complaint - those bloody electric candles! It's always doubly painful to find electric candles in a beautiful and cool church.

But they do a lot of great things there.

Liam said...

Yeah, the electric candles are really tacky. They don't have those at Ascension.

Anonymous said...

July 8, 2010
These pictures are very old. This church now has alot of gold inside. So much so that St Francis would hate it.
The electrick candels are required by the fire department. They are there to prevent the church from burning down.