This past summer, I decided to be a tourist in my own city. A born-and-bred New Yorker, however, I have learned in my nineteen years to avoid crowded sights such as Times Square and Midtown like the plague if I wish to keep my sanity. I discovered a new way to enjoy a piece of New York’s cityscape: church hopping. Churches, ornate and unapologetically enormous in a city well-known for its expensive real estate, are numerous, aesthetically pleasing, and perhaps best of all, free for everyone. Rich, poor, bold, meek, native, or foreigner—all are welcome to the physical manifestations of New York’s strong Catholic community.
I have used the word “strong,” but it is perhaps not as strong as it once was. Catholics leaving the Church for a non-religious life, or even one of atheism, is no longer news. Feeling isolated from the Catholic Church’s traditional stances or simply no longer interested in the banalities of a life of prayer and weekly Mass, many American Catholics are not as “Catholic” as they once were generations past. The Archdiocese of New York, which administers to New York’s Catholic churches, schools, and the community at large, has responded accordingly. Four years ago, the Archdiocese launched its “Making All Things New” campaign, a euphemism for closing churches and combining parishes to cut costs in the face of a dwindling base of support among New Yorkers. Sunday Mass at the Church of St. John the Martyr, where I cried as a newborn baby, drew in my coloring books in the pews as a toddler, and altar-served as an awkward pre-teen, became a thing of the past when the church shut its doors in 2015. However, it remains standing and intact, a silent beacon of what once was on New York’s Second Avenue.
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