By Emily Drooby
Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of could-be Saint, Dorothy Day. Hennessy and members of the Catholic Worker, the organization Day started, and others are fighting to keep Day’s former Lower East Side parish, Church of the Nativity, from becoming luxury housing.
Martha Hennessy explains, “On the one hand we are talking about canonizing her and on the other hand we are talking about turning her tiny little parish into luxury housing.”
Several proposals for the space have been submitted to the Archdiocese of New York. One of them would provide low income housing, while another would create luxury condos.
Some of the Catholic protestors say luxury condos are the opposite of what Dorothy Day advocated for during her life. Hennessy explained, “Condos for the wealthy in the East Village. It’s a theft from the poor and we really have a proposal that’s very viable.”
While the low-income housing proposal would net about 18 million, the condos could bring in a potential 50 million dollars. Money which in a statement to Catholic New Service the communications director for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, explains, “…the parish needs to receive fair market value for the property so that the parish and the Archdiocese can continue to meet the pastoral, charitable, educational – and housing – needs of the people we serve.”
In 2015, before it was decommissioned, the Church Of The Nativity merged with a neighboring parish. Zwilling further explaining to CNS, the money from the sale would go to that parish, the Most Holy Redeemer.
Despite this controversy, the Archdiocese of New York has an ongoing commitment to providing low-income housing in the city. Zwilling explained, “Mayor (Bill) de Blasio, as have former mayors, has said that the Catholic Church does more to provide affordable housing in New York City than any other faith community, religious, or charitable organization…”
Rebecca Amato, who has gone to the Vatican to speak about how the Church is affected by gentrification, says losing the building to developers would be a blow to the entire community. Saying, “It would just be another nail in the coffin of this neighborhood this is a neighborhood that’s been gentrifying for a long time but it’s really sped up in the last 18 years and really in the last few years.”
The fate of former churches has become an international topic of conversation and was the focal point at a recent Vatican conference.
As far as the former Church Of The Nativity goes, a decision has yet to be finalized.