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ITALIANS DON'T GO TO CHURCH

The Sun, October 3, 1898.

Open-air services were held in East 11 Street at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, and the Rev. Patrick F. McSweeny, rector of St. Brigid's Church, who officiated, said that so far as he knew it was the first time that Catholic clergymen in this country had gone into streets to preach. The rector first obtained permission from Archbishop Corrlgan to preach in the street for the benefit of the large number of Italians in his parish who would not attend church. In this city, he explained, there are 130,000 Italians, all Roman Catholics, and of the number scarcely 10.000 attend church. In seeking for the cause of this indifference he found that the Italians were opposed to building or supporting churches because in their native land the Government did that.

Some time ago Father McSweeny issued a circular inviting Italians to attend his church, at Eighth Street and Avenue B, and stating that the services would be free to them. Very few responded, however. He then decided that if they would not go to the church he would bring the church to them, and he laid his plan before the Archbishop who approved it. A permit, good until Jan. 1, was obtained from the Mayor' office, and yesterday afternoon two big trucks wore drawn up on the sidewalk next to the old Calvary Cemetery in Eleventh street, between Avenue A and Avenue B, and facing a row of Italian tenements.

An American and an Italian flag were hung up on the cemetery fence and a church banner was raised on one of the trucks. A choir of boys from St. Brigid's Church, under charge of Brother Albert, occupied one of the wagons. A delegation of men from the Holy Name Society of the parish stood near the wagons. When the services began people were on the stoop of houses, others in the windows, crowds were upon the front fire escapes and many on the roofs of the houses.

The crowd in the street extended up and down for nearly half a block. The Italians apparently looked upon the event as of a festive character, and every man, woman and child on the block sought a place to see, if not to hear, all that occurred.

The Rev. Dr. McSweeny preached a short sermon in Italian, and told the people that he had set aside apart of his church to which they would be freely admitted at all the regular services, so that they could not urge as an excuse for not going to church that it costs too much.

Father Cardella, S. J., of St. Francis Xavier's Church, exhorted his fellow countrymen to overcome their religious indifference. He reminded them that in their old home they faithfully observed their religious obligations and were regular churchgoers, but seemed to become atheists after a short residence in this country. This is a religious country, he continued, and this godless way of living is as offensive to people here as it was disgraceful to the land of their birth. He said he hoped to see many of them attending services at St. Brigid's Church next Sunday.

The Rev. Francis Zabogllo of the Missionaries of San Carlo recited prayers in Italian, and the Rev. P. H. Drain of St. Brigid's Church and the choir of boys chanted the rosary. As the clergymen left the truck at the conclusion of the services, the Italians in the street applauded, and this was taken up by the people on the fire escapes, in the windows, and on the roofs.

After the services the Rev. Dr. McSweeny said he felt encouraged to continue the experiment by the apparent interest shown by the people.

 

IMAGE:

http://evgrieve.com/2011/11/st-brigids-is-looking-oh-so-1848.html - A photo from around the early 1870s showing St. Brigid’s Church with its spires on Avenue B and, in foreground, a gazebo in Tompkins Square Park. Around this time, the park was stripped and leveled to turn it into a parade ground for the 7th Regiment. The gazebo had been likely the reviewing stand for the military brass. After much public outcry, in 1878, Tompkins Square was redesigned and rebuilt as a public park.