Today I offer what I trust will be an unusual variation on my occasional "Church Sunday" feature: a "Former-Church Sunday". Today's closed building is a once-grand Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady, Queen of the Angels (tho many people do not use the "the" when referring to it). Tho I assuredly do not believe in any God, churches are institutions that form communities out of people who all too often are otherwise isolated. Many churches also do good works in many areas. Especially is that true of the Roman Catholic Church, which has maintained extensive networks of Catholic schools and hospitals for hundreds of years. When OLQotA closed, so did its school. And that is a pity.
I drew together information from several sources in writing this post. Rather than link to each for each piece of information, unless I quote something, I provide a list of sources at the end of this discussion, which people interested in more information and who want to know from exactly what source I drew what item of information can check at their leisure.
I knew little of this old church, located at 44 Irvine Turner Boulevard, between Springfield Avenue to the north and West Kinney Street to the south in the Central Ward. I had seen it in passing from various angles but never stopped to take pictures while it was still in operation. I read somewhere that it had closed. One day I noticed that the windows had been removed, so I resolved to get there to take pictures before the building either fell down or was demolished.
That structure is but a short walk from the construction site of the Newark ShopRite, so the last time I took progress pix there, on November 24th, I walked on to the church and took the pictures I show today. I later did some Internet research.
Here's what I found. A blogpost by Barry Carter of The Star-Ledger from February 16, 2013, says in part:
Queen of Angels Parish [was] the first African-American Catholic Church in Newark ...
It is not just in Newark that the Church is in deep trouble. The decline of the Catholic Church in the Northeastern quadrant of the United States has been substantial, if not quite catastrophic. Tho Catholics might hope that the revolutionary new Pope will stanch the outflow of the Church's lifeblood, not even groups that have historically been massively, faithfully Catholic, are remaining in the Church but fleeing to other denominations. This decline has in some areas approached collapse of Catholic numbers, which has led to the closure of many churches, large and small. I have mentioned that in my neighborhood, Sacred Heart of Vailsburg, which when it was dedicated in 1930 was the largest parish church in the Nation, closed several years ago. Its stained-glass windows, like those of Queen of the Angels, were also removed, but replaced by plain-glass or frosted-glass windows. The building was not left open to the elements as has been QotA.
This is a church the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited, that held meetings for his Poor People’s Campaign. After he was killed, Queen of Angels organized a walk of 25,000 black and white people through the Central Ward to promote racial harmony.
Known for its civil rights involvement, the parish attracted activists and entertainers, including jazz musician Mary Lou Williams. Built by German Catholics in 1861, the church was known as St. Peter’s before Queen of Angels took over. At its peak, it was so entrenched in the community that it had five priests leading Mass. ...
Queen of Angels, once the center of black Catholic worship, started out on Academy Street in 1930. It burned down in 1958, but German Catholics invited them to worship in their sanctuary, a sanctuary that Queen of Angels would eventually occupy. The German parishioners moved to Irvington in 1962.
As the years passed, members moved away, some, in part, because of the riots that scarred the city in 1967.
With each decade, the church’s numbers dropped, until it could no longer sustain itself. When the ceiling fell last year, [Queen of the Angels priest James] McConnell said it was time for them to go across town for service at St. Augustine Church. About 100 members went [to 170 Sussex Avenue]. Note here the oddity to those of us more familiar with geograffic terminology from Manhattan than from Newark, that "crosstown" in Newark refers to north-south movement, whereas in Manhattan it refers to east-west movement.]
Now, there’s 50 left, and they plan to continue their style of service with a separate Mass at the new parish.
Note the ruf rectangle of colored bricks that apparently underlie the white bricks that comprise the bulk of the façade of the church. Brick City × 2.
Barry Carter picked up the saga of Queen of [the] Angels in a Star-Ledger news story on October 19th of this year. It seems the Archdiocese had secured a permit to demolish the building entirely, but 'neglected' to point out to City authorities that the structure:
is on both the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
The archdiocese was aware of the designations, but believed it had done everything required to get the demolition permit from the city [— except inform the City that the permit related to a landmarked place! It gets worse.]
Bill Mikesell, chairman of Newark’s Landmarks & Historic Preservation Commission, said the city's building department made a mistake when it issued the demolition permit.
He said the error occurred because city records do not list the church as having a historic designation under its current address on Irvine Turner Boulevard.
The historic designation for the 1861 church building is listed under its old address on Belmont Avenue, when it was known as St. Peter’s Catholic Church. The street name was changed to Irvine Turner Boulevard in 1977.
Note the white fretwork on the front of the (former) church.
This kind of nonsense had better not happen ever again. If there is no provision in current law to make sure that changes to street names do not endanger historic places, then we had better just stop changing street names!
Former Catholic school associated with the former church, tho it looks as tho it might have closed before the church, unless the outside is worse than the inside.
As I was reading Mr. Carter's recent article, I was thinking about adaptive reuse of myriad other old churches around the country, as for things as varied as a children's activity center and offices for the Unified Vailsburg Services Organization (see the fotos in my post of July 27th), dance clubs, and restaurants. One old Catholic church here in Newark, St. Joseph's, has been turned into The Priory, a jazz club and restaurant.
Just then I came to this passage, which concerned use of the building for Newark arts as proposed by a major Newark arts figure I have mentioned in this blog many times.
Matt Gosser, a member of the Newark Preservation & Landmarks Committee, said he tried to rescue the church when he offered to purchase the building for $50,000 earlier this year. His idea was to turn it into a gallery or museum that would house Newark artifacts he has collected. [And he has assuredly collected many such items over the decades he has been pursuing "Ar+cheology", his combination of art and history.]
Gosser said the archdiocese told him his offer was too low. He said officials were seeking $500,000. ... [Maybe Matt needs to appeal to the "art+chdiocese", to remind the Roman Catholic Church of its historic role as bulwark against barbarians. The Church used to defend churches from destruction. Now it is destroying churches itself!]
"They don’t seem inclined to work with me at all," Gosser said. "They seem to be excited about knocking it down and selling it as vacant land." ...
So, Queen of Angels sits in limbo.
It also sits amid litter. I don't know if the garbage bags in this portion of the lawn were left by people responsible for the church or tossed over the fence by neighborhood slobs — perhaps even anti-Catholic slobs. One doesn't want to think that a Liberal city like Newark would have anti-Catholic Neanderthals throwing garbage over a fence into the grounds of a closed Catholic Church. So let's reject that thought out of hand.
Exactly how much more does the Archdiocese think it would get for vacant land at that location? Yes, the new ShopRite and Sonic Restaurant not far away may signal improved economic prospects for that area, but the City National Bank, much closer to both the ShopRite and Sonic, has closed. So is the Archdiocese being realistic in seeing the chance to make a small fortune from a plot of vacant land that the destruction of part of Newark's history would afford? And even if the Archdiocese could make some more money, say, thirty pieces of silver, from destroying part of our city's history, should they? It is because short-sighted and mercenary people destroyed immense amounts of history that could have been preserved thru adaptive reuse, that we created Historic Registers and landmark protections for sites and structures important in our history.
You might be able to see in the distance, beyond this trash-marred yard of Our Lady QofA, the dome of St. Rocco's Church, which, last I knew, was doing fine. Yes, there really is a St. Rocco's in Newark. You wanna make something of it?
Some guardians of the interests of the Church may argue that the money the Church could realize from destroying bricks and mortar, even historic and decorative bricks and mortar, could be better directed to education and humanitarian programs. Oh? What LASTING value could such programs offer to society? We have governmental welfare. We have student loans and grants from government and private philanthropies to deal with educational matters.
Note the DARK fretwork on the sides of the building, offsetting the white fretwork of the front.
It is also always easier to raise funds for needy and vulnerable people than for the preservation of architectural and historical structures. After all, poor kids and old folks have faces on which you can train cameras to create pitiable fotos in appeals to public generosity.
We could tear down and/or sell off every architectural and historic structure in the Nation, then use up all the money raised in such sales within five years of mostly useless efforts on behalf of the poor. At end, the poor would still be poor, but the Nation would be even poorer. Consider the demolition of New York Penn Station. The Railroad in whose name that barbarous vandalism was carried out went bankrupt anyway! [Yes, I know that "barbarian [V]andalism]" is sort of redundant.]
Sources for this post: Barry Carter blogpost of February&nbs;16, 2013, from The Star-Ledger, "Newark's Queen of Angels leaves legacy of praise and justice".
Barry Carter October 29, 2014 article in The Star-Ledger, "Queen of Angels: Beloved Catholic church in Newark remains in limbo". These items are on nj.com, which is inexcusably slow because it loads dozens, perhaps even hundreds of ads, logos (Facebook, Twitter), links and other bandwidth-grasping crap before it presents the reader with stable text. I think we may have to pass laws against such maddening clutter, which is subject to regulation as commercial speech, not political nor private speech.
"Demographics" section of Wikipedia article on the Catholic Church. Note that NJ has the third-highest proportion of Catholics (39%) in its population.
Barry Carter also, on 12/2/14, did a story on bike lanes that local businesspeople don't want, a subject I discussed here on November 25th.
I wondered what the two outliers (architectural outriggers, as it were) flanking the central tower of the church looked like up close, so zoomed in within my graffics program to see. Now you can see too.