St. Joseph’s Church in Chinatown To Close

St. Joseph's Church in Chinatown (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

St. Joseph’s Church in Chinatown (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Christmas Eve should be a time for peace and blessings, especially for Christians who normally spend the night in their church, wrapped in a warm and joyful atmosphere. But this Christmas Eve [was] the saddest one for St. Joseph’s Church at 5 Monroe Street in Chinatown. The Archdiocese of New York recently announced the church will be closed by Aug. 1, 2015. This will be the end of the church that has 2,000 members and has been serving 88 years in Chinatown.

The Archdiocese made the decision on Nov. 2 and notified the church on the same day. According to the official letter of notification, the church will be merged into the Church of the Transfiguration at 29 Mott Street. The letter said the Archdiocese believes this reorganization is the best choice for the region to build a more effective and vital faith community.

People working for the church said when the church announced the Archdiocese’s decision during a Mass on Dec. 3, many members and staffers had tears in their eyes. They have been coming here for many years and love this church. In addition, they were surprised that a healthy and active church like this one is being closed.

St. Joseph’s Church was built in 1926 by Italian immigrants. Now it offers three Masses [in English] every Sunday, each for about 90 members. Every week, it also offers a Mass in Spanish for about 50 members and two Masses in Chinese for about 400 members. The Chinese-language Masses, started in 2005, brought a lot of new members to the church. Since 2008, the church has baptized about 160 members every year.

Now Chinese members make up 90 percent of the whole congregation. Many new immigrants, especially those from Fujian province, settle in New York right after they arrive the U.S. Cultural shock and loneliness send them to the church to look for support. Many of the Fujianese immigrants were baptized in the church, married there and then have their children baptized there. For them, this church is a home.

The morale was clearly low at the last Christmas Eve Mass. Staffers said every now and then, the Archdiocese will review the status of its churches and close some that are not operating well in order to maintain the health of the entire Archdiocese. There are three Catholic churches in Chinatown including this one, the Church of the Transfiguration, and the Church of St. Teresa at Henry Street. In addition, there is the Church of Most Precious Blood in Little Italy, although it no longer has services and is mainly a tourist site these days. The three churches in Chinatown are located close to one another. They all serve mainly Chinese members so the Archdiocese has been contemplating closing one of them for three years.

The staffers said that Archdiocese normally looks at the quality and frequency of services, the financial status, education programs, and evangelizing activities and the management of a church to make such a decision. But with 2,000 registered members and more than 500 attendees at the Sunday Masses, St. Joseph’s is more active than other churches which have only 300 to 400 members. The church holds three [group] baptism ceremonies every year.

The management and the financial status of the church have no problems. It has been operating completely on members’ donations and has never asked the Archdiocese for funding. By this criteria, the church should be ranked high in this neighborhood. Yet, it is now the only one that is being closed.

Many members of the church said the Archdiocese’s evaluation ignored the facts. They argued but their voices were not heard.

According to some members, the main reason the Archdiocese gave to them for the closure is that most members of the church don’t live in Manhattan. But this is because the church serves many new immigrants who often find jobs somewhere else after they first land in New York. Still, they return periodically to the church where they are baptized. So the church does have many members living around the country. Every Christmas Eve, the Mass here attracts more than a thousand people, many coming back from other states.

The staffers said church members are mobile. When the church is closed, they can always go to other churches. But they will lose a home that they have loved for a long time.

The merger with the Church of the Transfiguration will allow it to take over the property and savings of St. Joseph’s. The school of the Church of the Transfiguration is already located on a property of St. Joseph’s. The property originally belonged to the St. James Elementary School in Chinatown which was merged into St. Joseph in 2010.

Some members questioned whether the decision of the Archdiocese to close a church that mainly serves the Chinese is discriminatory. They plan to write to the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations to protest the decision of the Archdiocese of New York.


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  3. I want to know why they are closing the church, because this is the one place that you can obtain genealogy. on the irish that came during the famine. Please is there anyway to keep this church opened because it help with the names of the children born during the famine. Is there an way to contacted the church to get help with the names of the children born during the 1800, because a lot
    of the Irish did not name them only in the church and St. James and St Joseph are among these church, so it mean we will have know other place to find our genealogy for our people born during the 1800. So how well we be able to this information that we so badly need . Marla Muir Like my grandfather Thomas Flynn born in October, 1861 and probably baptized in one of the two Churchs maintained both St James and St Joseph.
    in this Church .

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