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The archdiocese & the arts: What’s your angle?

Peter Steinfels’s post on CNN’s framing of a report on the multimillion-dollar residences of U.S. archbishops got me thinking about coverage of another story concerning use (and re-use) of church property. Here in New York, the annual International Fringe Festival opens tomorrow, and among the more than twenty venues at which performances will be staged is the new Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center, “a 25,000-square-foot arts center at Bleecker and Elizabeth streets with two theaters and four rehearsal studios available for rent” operated by the Archdiocese of the City of New York.

The quoted passage above comes from a March 16 Wall St. Journal report, a straightforward account focused mainly on the center’s mission as “‘a place to showcase Christian humanism—the true, the good and the beautiful,’" said executive director Msgr. Michael F. Hull.” (Hull later in the story describes himself as “a card-carrying member of MoMA,” the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.) Six paragraphs into the story—after information on artistic director Jessica Bashline and the type of events she’d like to see staged—the reporter notes that the building is located “near the Bowery” and “dates to the early 1920s, when it served as a parish school and center for the Italian-American community. In 1938, it became a shelter for homeless men and remained as such until 2009.” And that paragraph is followed by this one:

"It wasn't viable to run it, and the neighborhood had changed so much," said Msgr. Hull, describing the evolution of the build's use as a reflection of the changing needs of New York. "We served the Italian immigrants, then homeless men, and now the arts community."

The story then gets to the arts-community angle: how expensive it is to find rehearsal and performance space in New York as real estate costs have shot up, how even though Fringe Festival content might “raise the eyebrows of conservative churchgoers” the only caveat from the archdiocese on style and content is that there’s nothing “hateful about one group of people.” Headline of the Journal piece: “A Marriage of Church and Stage.”

Fast-forward to August 3, when the New York Times ran a story concerned less with the cultural center’s mission and performance schedule than the history of that “building near the Bowery” and the community it once served. Headlined “On the Bowery, Questions About the Church’s Shifting Mission,” the piece quotes several people who either worked at or found meals and showers at the former shelter, which was called (a detail not noted in the Journal story) the Holy Name Center for Homeless Men.

The Times story says it still was serving about a hundred people a day, among them, Fred Armour, who “is puzzled by the cultural center”:

Having lived on the streets for five years, Mr. Armour used to rely on Holy Name for taking showers, which he could do early enough to have the rest of the day to look for work. A few other places in the area offer showers, but too late in the day. Instead, he washes himself under the sprinklers at a local park.

Not that long ago, Mr. Armour was struck by the sight of well-dressed people milling about outside the Sheen center.

“It looked like one of those events you’d see at any art center,” he said. “We already have a lot of culture around here. Why is the church joining in with what everybody else is doing around here? Joining the crowd.”

Also quoted, a volunteer at nearby St. Joseph House named Heidi Hynes who “hoped the church might be persuaded to open the [Sheen center] early in the morning so that the homeless could at least shower there.”

“That would be a powerful message to the people in that neighborhood and the visitors to the center about what is Catholic culture, and to know that serving the homeless is at the core of that,” Ms. Hynes said. “The Catholic Church is in a unique position to show people what it really means to love your neighbor.”

Cardinal Dolan’s response to Hynes is included (“The cardinal replied in a letter that ‘the time has come to make a different use’ of the building, but he vowed that the church would continue to provide services to the homeless in Lower Manhattan”), while the head of Catholic Charities notes that the proximity, “right around the corner,” of two other homeless-service organizations was taken into account as “we were phasing out [Holy Name].” The last word of the piece belongs to Hynes, who is reported not only to be making a novena to Dorothy Day, but unsurprised by what’s happening on the Bowery, “in a city where the well-off need not interact with the needy”:

“People who are poor help people who are poor more than rich people do,” she said. “That’s because we live with each other and know each other. Other people think the poor are trying to scam them. That’s the saddest part of the hyper-segregation of this city, that people in need are deemed unworthy.”

And finally, there’s the take from Cardinal Dolan himself, who in a June column in Catholic New York (headline: “The Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Art and Culture”) links the center explicitly to the new evangelization:

Allow me to tell you a little about the center, our hopes and dreams for it, and all the good it can do for the Church. In line with the goal of The New Evangelization, the mission statement of the center is succinct, though all encompassing: The Sheen Center is a forum to highlight the true, the good, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages. Aware of our creation in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Jesus, the Sheen Center aspires to present the heights and depths of human expression in thought and culture, acknowledging that “the glory of God is man fully alive” ….

Dolan also goes back a little farther into the building’s history as part of Our Lady of Loreto Parish, while adding that the center “stands on Elizabeth and Bleecker Streets, now an interesting part of Manhattan where cultural and artistic endeavors are thriving."

In selecting these passages, I’ve done my best to represent them in context—no cherry-picking to make my own point about the decision to establish the cultural center or the processes involved, only an attempt to show how different organizations have chosen to cover it. Readers who’ve seen their neighborhood parish buildings sold to well-endowed private schools or converted into condominiums might feel that in this case, at least, something beneficial is being done with space that was underutilized and expensive to maintain. Those who know that if there are fewer homeless people to see around Bleecker and Elizabeth, it’s not because there are fewer homeless people in New York (where the number of homeless had risen to an all-time high of more than fifty-four thousand by April) but because they’ve been forced to other neighborhoods, might wish that something more in line with Hynes’s proposal could have been done with the space. And those who long ago had already found the intersection of Bleecker and Elizabeth to be an interesting part of the city where, even before the Sheen center was conceived, cultural and artistic endeavors thrived, along with religious, social, civic, and simple neighborly ones, might find something to think about in a question Peter Schjeldahl poses in an item—not about the Sheen center, but about the mixing of money and art—at the New Yorker website today: “At what point does a widely shared yen for aesthetic engagement alter the character of that engagement?”

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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Dolan:    "all the good it can do for the Church."  ... yes, it's all about the church, not the poor.

"the true, the good, and the beautiful" ... right, I recall Jesus going on about the worth of these medieval transcendentals - oh wait, that was Aquinas.

This reminds me of a past post at Chritianity Today - "We Are Not Commanded to be a Docent in an Art Museum.  We Are Commanded to Love the Poor"  ... ...

"If Jesus were living today and tithing, what would his check register say? I am pretty sure [his money] wouldn't be going to the symphony. I am pretty sure it wouldn't be going to his alma mater as a first priority. I think it would be going to the least of these."

It's not that I'm against art - I have a BA in art - but art will certainly survive without the church.  The church should have other priorities.

On the general concept of the Church supporting the arts I don't think there can be much dispute.  One need only look at the Vatican or listen to any number of composotions by renowned composers to see that it has been a part of the Church's heritage for centuries.  As to the specifics fo the Sheen Center, that is a bit more complicated.  Uses of buildings do change over time.  Ways of addressing various problems do change over time.  Neighborhoods do change over time.  For example, I am currently involved in converting a former Catholic elementary school into housing for the elderly. Neither the parish nor the diocese needed the building any more, having gone to larger regional Caholic Schools.  And I'm on a committee dealing with a building that had served as a homeless shelter for 2 decades, but is simply no longer safe to use for that purpose, or any other purpose really.  it will be totally rebuilt as supportive housing, so it will continue to serve a similar clientele, but in a vastly different way with permanent houisng, and in significantly fewer numbers, 20 units as opposed ot 75 beds.  I'm aware of another former Catholic School which was being used as a day care center, but had similar problems and was in need of substantial upgrades to meet health and safety codes and was ultimately converted to affordable housing in a move that was fairly controvertial in the neighborhood.  Neighbors argued that they had enough housing but not enough day care.  The problem in both these cases is that the buildings as they were were no longer appropriate, and no longer safe frankly, for the use to which they had been put for several decades.  Add to this the reality that cities, states and many homeless advocates are moving away from the temporay shelter model of providing for homeless people.  The new model is based on the housing first philosophy.  Get people into permanent housing and then deal with other issues such as addiction.  It doesn't eliminate the need for temporary shelters entirely, but ultimately it reduces it.  So i would have lots of questions before I criticize the decisions to convert this building.  Among them, what was the condition of the building?  What else is happening in the neighborhood?  In homeless services? What is the impact on the neighborhood in terms of not only physical development but jobs for example?   These kinds of choices are easy to pick on, and like the discussion about bishop's housing, easy to make look bad, but sometimes the decisionmaking isn't quite as clear cut.

The church has supported the arts for centuries, yes, but that's not because it's an intrinsically Christian thing ro do.  The  Vatican and bishops saw themselves s spiritual lords like the secular kings and princes of Europe - they were all patrons of the arts - that was one of the perks of being wealthy and powerful.

Jim Dunn, many thanks for your excellent comment.

It would be good to know if the two homeless centers around the corner provide early morning showers, and if not, whether it is possible for at least one of them to start doing so.

I'm excited at the prospect of the church immersing itself in the fine arts.  While it is easy enough to bash patrons of the arts, please consider that most of the people who are actually  working in the industry are not particularly well off and many of them are barely scraping by.  They, too, are a group that deserves to have the Gospel proclaimed to it (as are arts patrons, for that matter - is there a less evangelized segment of people in the US?)  

Hynes' multi-use idea is pretty intriguing, and I'd think there could be some interesting things that would come out of artists and performers interacting with, and perhaps even serving, the homeless.  I hope that those in charge of the arts center take Hynes' suggestion seriously.

The Holy Name Center for Homeless Men was once upon a time a school building attached to our Lady of Lorretto Church (Scilian in origin), which was right next door, and next door to that the convent for the sisters who taught in the school.

I knew the corner of Elizabeth and Bleecker and the buildings well. The National Pastoral Life Center occupied the former convent when I was the editor of Church magazine in the mid-eighties. Phil Murnion was the director; Harry Fagan the co-director, both working to help create and maintain vital parishes across the country. Church was their idea. They invited me to put it together; it was the only magazine I worked for that didn't have an annual deficit!

Monsignor John Ahern was the director of the Holy Name Center, a wonderful, caring man unflinching in his hospitality to homeless men, many elderly. In my years there, the Center offered showers (which David Gonzalez mentions), a mail drop, and various kinds of social services. There were many "flop" houses on the Bowery and the Center did not offer beds (at least in my time there). The Salvation Army was nearby and I think they offered meals.

The "parish" and its parishioners gradually disappeared. The convent and the church were sold and a developer built an apartment house. I was gone by then (to Commonweal). The National Pastoral Life Center moved into the second story of the school building; the rectory was on the top floor. The NPLC ultimately went the way of all good things. I think it is true that as the "flop" houses disappeared on the Bowery, there were fewer and fewer men coming to the doors of the Center. Msgr. Ahearn may well still be with us but must certainly be retired. So declining population, retired caregiver par excellence, and a large and valuable building that served many noble purposes beginning with the Sicillian immigrants.

Should the archdiocese have sold it to a developer? Should they have left it standing empty? Don't know. But everything that's been said about space for the arts and public meetings is true; there is not enough in Manhattan. At least, it's not another high-priced condo with a "poor door."

As the majority of comments here show, horrible and disturbing decisions on the part of the Church can be supplied with very convenient rstionalizations.  It is just amazing.  This is not a poor Church for the poor that Pope Francis wants.

The Saint Francis Center in Boston ( ) provides the kind of services that seem to have been shut down here.. It's interesting that when the new Ritz Carlton Hotel and Condos was built nearby, the developers put up the money to create a large indoor atrium in Francis House so clients could line up inside rather than out on the sidewalk (where the tenants of the Ritz might encounter them).

St. Francis House is open seven days a week, 365 days a year and it provides its guests with the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, showers, telephones, mail, medical care, and emergency assistance. There are also rehabilitative programs (employment, housing, mental health, substance abuse counseling and lifeskills training) to help those who are able to move themselves out of poverty and homelessness, to achieve lives of independence, self-respect, and hope.

There is also some transitional and permanent housing in the building for the formerly homeless, living in recovery, and employed.

It also has a very active expressive art room, the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Center,[12] where poor and homeless artists create and are given a chance to express themselves, and many of the works are displayed and sold.[13] Saori style Japaneseweaving is especially therapeutic and useful for many of the artists.[14][15] Every year, guest artwork is featured in the Art from the Heart Calendar.

In 2004, the Carolyn Connors Women’s Center was opened, recognizing the special vulnerability of the smaller population of women who are homeless.

Being a daytime shelter model, it is a critical part of caring for the poor and homeless, since most nighttime shelters for sleeping typically put their guests out during the day, early in the morning after wake-up call. Rather than being left to the streets, which can be harsh, the day center provides a place to go and be cared for and also be part of a community, typically much more wide-ranging in services and scope than the nighttime emergency shelter scheme.

The in-house medical clinic is run by Boston Health Care for the Homeless.[16]


John Hayes,

Thank you for that post and for your other posts that show the Archdiocese of Boston responding to the needs of the poor in a very admirable way. Dolan is no O'Malley.

Why didn't the Archdiocese of New York come up with a similar plan and challenge the gentrification of the Bleeker and Elizabeth neighborhood instead of enabling it?  What a tremendous witness it would have been, much better than evangelizing the theater crowd, to stand with the poor and continue to provide them with the services they need for their very dignity, instead of caving to the trendy NY artiist crowd and Monsignor MOMA, who waxes eloquent about the the project in terms of Platonic ideas.  Pope Francis could care less about goodness, truth and beauty at the expense of the poor.

Brilliant! The Archdiocese of New York should have spent millions! billions to buy up the neighborhood and prevent gentrification. Why didn't they think of that?


No they did not have to buy up the neighborhood to challenge gentrification.  They needed only to keep the center open for the homeless.  Don't be so clueless.  


Nice job, Dominic, of presenting all sides of the question. You set it all out so well that one is able to evaluate the matter well. 

No matter how thin you slice it it is still baloney. Gentrification simple and clear. I guess Dolan is not re-thinking opulence as much as he implied. I think it is difficult for us to rethink the church and the arts since this was drummed into us from an early age. But clearly this has been done by an "Empire" church which has lost its way. Francis is stripping that opulence in so many ways direct and subtle. So events like this come at a time when the Bishop of Rome. presiding in charity, is signalling that freeing the captives is our mission above all. 

Francis is directing us to think in terms of the Gospel not Empire. I believe many of us have trouble absorbing what a radical reform he is leading from a monarchical church to a church of service. You may have read or heard the following about Francis. It may take many readings for us to get it.

"....his decision to remain in Rome during the hot and sticky city summer, rather than decamping to Castel Gandolfo, the cooler papal summer residence in the hills to the south of the city. It was, Lombardi said, a sign of his solidarity with the poor who cannot afford to take holidays. The gestures followed one on another. He invited the Vatican’s cleaners and gardeners to attend his early morning Mass. On Sundays he led the worship at the little church of Santa Anna attended by Vatican staff, and stood outside to greet them like a normal parish priest. He was photographed by someone with a surreptitious mobile phone sitting humbly at the back of a congregation, rather than on the altar, during a meditation at Mass. He walked around the Vatican instead of taking cars. He would spend an hour after his Wednesday audience greeting people in wheelchairs, or order his Popemobile to stop so he could leap out to embrace a disabled man. When the crowds chanted his name he told them to chant the name of Jesus instead. He chose a simple papal coat of arms and then conspicuously declined to have it emblazoned on any banners as his predecessors did. He briefly met members of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group that works to locate children and grandchildren who disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship – and which he had declined to meet when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Inside the Vatican he signalled his unease at society’s contemporary bonus culture by axing the € 1,500 lump sum which Vatican staff were traditionally paid at the transition from one pope to the next. He ended the annual stipend of € 25,000 awarded to each of the five cardinals who make up the supervisory board of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione – the Vatican Bank. He lifted the block the Vatican had placed on the murdered Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero becoming a saint. He addressed the Vatican’s trainee diplomats and warned them against ambition and careerism. Almost every week there was another story in the press about a ‘Hello, it’s Bergoglio…’ phone call he had made. Not everyone was impressed. His political opponents in Argentina dismissed it all as gimmickry. Estela De La Cuadra, whose family had appealed to Francis for help when he was Jesuit Provincial in 1977 and her pregnant sister, Elena, had been kidnapped by the Argentine military dictatorship, said: ‘He’s not really humble. All this paying the hotel bill is just a publicity stunt.’ And the new Pope’s rejection of Benedict’s revivals of tradition outraged Catholicism’s ultra-conservatives. The head of the SSPX, the Lefebvrist Society of Saint Pius X in South America, Christian Bouchacourt, denounced Francis’s simple style as humiliating and undignified for the Church. A traditionalist blog, Rorate Caeli, catalogued the extremity of the ultras’ indignation: Francis took off his stole in public; he removed the wall of candles Benedict had placed between celebrant and congregation; he said rather than sang certain prayers; he didn’t make the deacon kneel before him for a blessing before the gospel; he preached without wearing his mitre; he folded his hands during the liturgy instead of pressing his palms piously together; he did not genuflect at the Consecration; and he gave the Kiss of Peace to deacons not just concelebrants. His solecisms were not just confined to liturgy, they bemoaned. He asked cardinals to wear black instead of red; he conversed with the Patriarch of Constantinople seated on an armchair rather than a throne; he used the phone, contrary to protocol; he drank mate tea in public when receiving the Argentinean president when popes should never be seen publicly consuming food or drink except the Eucharist; he insisted the Jesuit Superior General should use the informal Italian form ‘tu’ instead of Your Holiness; he signed himself plain Franciscus without the usual PP suffix, for pontifex pontificum; he didn’t wear red shoes or white stockings – or cuff links! This catalogue of ‘miserablist’ errors was downright Protestant, the scandalised ultra-traditionalists complained. Francis, however, had greater scandals in his sights. Each morning he established the custom of inviting different guests and Vatican staff to his 7 a.m. Mass in the fifty-seater Casa Santa Marta chapel. There he would deliver an extemporised homily based on the readings of the day. Each was characterised by his spontaneous thinking-aloud and his homely turn of phrase, a technique he carried over to sermons elsewhere. So he complained about the ‘babysitter Church ’ which only ‘takes care of children to put them to sleep’ instead of acting as a mother with her children.


Vallely, Paul (2013-08-01). Pope Francis: Untying the Knots







I think this decision must be evaluated within a broader context. A great many Catholic institutions are closing. Parishes are set to consolidate or close as well. What are the new priorities? The arts? I can't believe it. Really, I can't.

As older ministries are discontinued, I think it is legitimate to ask: what ministries to the indigent has Cardinal Dolan expanded or enhanced? I can't think of any. Are there some? Not just kept open, but made better? 

Here is what I am trying to say. I think these decisions are being made piecemeal, and out of the vest pocket of the Cardinal, because he likes 'em. Despite all the consulting company palaver about "Making All Things New," I'm not sure there's a vision. 

But I could be wrong. Maybe there IS a vision, and I just don't see it. Does anybody know?

MOS wrote Brilliant! The Archdiocese of New York should have spent millions! billions to buy up the neighborhood and prevent gentrification. Why didn't they think of  that?

In Boston (and, I gather from the article New York) the issue was whether services for the homeless should stay in place after the area around it gentrified. The Ritz Carlton, in Boston, was built in the area that was called "The Combat Zone" for good reason. St.Francis House stayed on rather than going away. The whole surrounding area has moved upscale but there is still a need for services for the homeless in that part of the city and they can coexist with their wealthy neighbors 

St. Francis House was started by the Franciscans at the Arch St. Shrine in Boston. It now has a lay board of directors (which includes one Franciscan from the Shrine) and describes itself as non-sectarian. 

This GetReligion piece raises some legitimate questions about the apparently selective nature of the NY Times' reporting on this story, comparing it the CNN story on archbishops' mansions (and referring to Peter Steinfels' post here on that CNN story).




Jim Pauwels, seems to me that the basic question is whether the decision to close the homeless shelter was right.  If it was, then the question of what the building is used for afterwards is a separate issue that can be discussed on its own merits. 

The Times article says "The archdiocese of New York closed the center in 2011, citing “changing demographics” and low demand."

The archdiocesan representative quoted in the article says:"“I do know we looked around when we were phasing out the center and thought the Bowery Residents’ Committee and the Rescue Mission provide a lot of services right around the corner.”

So the question is whether the archdiocese studied the issue seriously and was right that the needs of the homeless would be satisfied by other services in the area if  the Church closed its shelter. 

The answer the Times article gives to that is to quote a man who worked at the Church shelter (and now works at the Catholic Worker house) who says that services for the homeless are harder to find in the area (Bowery) since it closed - and another man who says he can't find a place to shower in the morning before he goes looking for work. 

I think Dawn Eden is right that that isn't an exhaustive study, but I don't think you can expect more from a reporter producing a one-off column. What's he's doing is flagging the fact that there seems to be a problem and someone ought to look into it. The archdiocese could or the Times could assign a team of reporters to investigate whether closing homeless shelters is making it harder for the homeless to find services they need. 

The Salvation Army also recently responded to changes on the Bowery:


"As Salvation Army Moves Out, Another Piece of Bowery History Is Lost.

. . . the demographics of the Bowery have changed since the Salvation Army moved into what was known as Booth House II 101 years ago. Homelessness declined during World War II, as economic conditions improved and veterans’ assistance expanded. The number of flophouses, gin mills and charities that catered to the area dwindled to dozens. Many resident alcoholics, prostitutes and vagrants migrated elsewhere, spurred in part by city efforts to scatter them."


At any rate "20/400 - Sketchy as F*ck - FringeNYC" is sold out. Just in case you were thinking of going. Oh dear. How long will it be before the Vagina Monologue will appear. Etc. You don't need the NY Times to tell you what possibilities or controversies will arise as events unfold. 

Don't despair, Bill.  You can catch the trailer for 20/400's Manboobs the Movie here:

High art capturing the Platonic notion of being: one, true, good, and beautiful.

John Hayes - I agree with your framing of the questions.

The 'meta-story' in all this seems to be that of a neighborhood that once was (if I'm not mistaken) a skid row, and now is gentrifying - perhaps is largely gentrified already?  

I guess I haven't seen enough in these media reports to conclude that the church is foresaking the homeless in NY and even in this neighborhood.  If the homeless and poor in that area are left high and dry, then it's well worth reporting.  But from what I can tell, that's not what has been reported here.  Has the homeless population gone down in the gentrifying area?  If so, then where have they gone?  Are they being served in those new locales?  Are the remaining service providers in the old neighborhood addressing the needs of those who remain?  I'm not able to answer any of these questions, so I'm trying not to leap to conclusions.

I assume that there is one or more Catholic parishes that serve that neighborhood, and perhaps some other Catholic institutions as well (certainly including that Catholic Worker house).  The church is still present there, and it is for the church there, whose membership, we hope, includes some of those upscale and arty types moving into the neighborhood, to determine how best to address the needs of the neighborhood's downscale residents.  I hope the church will advocate for the latter.  Challenging media reports like the NY Times story, and challenging voices like those raised in some of the comments here, should be part of that conversation.


The Salvation Army also recently responded to changes on the Bowery:

St.Francis House provides services to about 800 people a day. The gentrification of the neighborhood didn't reduce the number of homeless people who need help. 


BOSTON — Boston’s homeless population increased nearly 4 percent in 2013 over the previous year, according to an annual point-in-time census.

On Dec. 16, 2013, there were 7,255 homeless men, women and children in Boston, a 3.8 percent increase over the 2012 tally of 6,992, the city’s 34th Annual Homeless Census found.

Of last year’s total, 2,056 were homeless children, a 4.3 percent increase over the 2012 tally.

And the number of homeless families in Boston increased 5.8 percent year-over-year, from 1,166 households to 1,234 households.

“These numbers are very troubling, and paint a stark picture of vulnerable populations in our city,” Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Major cities around the country are seeing these kinds of increases, as rents go up and incomes don’t. My vision for Boston is that we want to be a City that works for all of our residents, where stable families have safe and stable housing, in stable neighborhoods.”

The real question is what gives the bishop the write to sponsor the arts when his mandate ts to help the poor and the downtrodden. Further, the bishop is doing this on contributions given to him to help the poor. As I informed many times on this blog, the mandate of Jesus is to give to the poor. Augustine, Jerome and others persuaded people to give to them and they will give to the poor. Jerome then used the money to support his writings while Augustine did the same.

The bishop and clergy have the mandate to use the contributions for the poor. How clear can it get. We have to change our way of thinking about this. Right now the clergy take discretionary authority to do what they damn well please with people's money. That must stop. 

From clueless: A few clues. The Holy Name Center for Homeless Men was not a shelter; it did not provide rooms or beds. The men who came there, at least in my day, were elderly and alcohoholics. The building as I said above was a former school, four stories, I believe. Homeless women and children, who make up much of NY's homeless population could not have lived there, no one could really live there (except the clergy on the top floor, which was probably the original rectory).

In the mid-80s homeless men were passing from older alcoholics to younger drug addicts. Did the Center have resources and the staff to assist them? Only the showers, the mail drop, and some social services. When the Bowery flop houses went so did needy men. The enthusiasm for keeping it open to help the homeless needs to be matched up with site, population, funds, etc.

I agree with Rita Ferrone that Cardinal Dolan is a ready-fire-aim kind of administrator. Who knows how the decision was made. Anyone? On the other hand, if you don't live in NYC, you have no idea how property melts away into money. It's amazing the cardinal didn't sell the building and the land for millions of dollars.

This article ( says the Holy Name Center was in operation until 2011, when the Archdiocese closed it to turn it into the arts center.  I was struck by the story of the men who went there every morning to shower, get a meal and pick up their mail.  One of them, Mr. Armour, took a shower there daiy before he went out to look for work.  Now he showers at a sprinkler in a park (who knows what he does in winter when the sprinkler is turned off?). It may not have been a shelter to house these men, but it provided important services for them, which were lost when it closed.  Instead of turning the  center into affordable rehearsal space, why didn't the Archdioces convert it into affordable housing, or renovate it so the men, who were accustomed to go there every morning, could continue to receive the help the center provided for them?    

Small detail.  The founding director, Msgr Michael Hull, is no longer director and has taken a leave of absence from the active ministry.  Does anyone know who the director is now?

Alan - I agree those are very fair questions.

This is somewhat tangential to the story at hand.  It's subject matter isn't specifically the Bowery, but it is about gentrification and its effects more generally.  I believe it does pose questions that the church should ponder as it considers gentrification and what its response should be.  It's conclusions:

Two major implications of this research stand out.

First, any benefits of gentrification remain highly bounded, showing little signs of spilling over or trickling down to adjacent neighborhoods, particularly those with more minority residents. Hwang and Sampson's study limited itself just to tracts that were geographically within spitting distance of ones that had already seen signs of renewal. But the benefits of upgrading couldn't always cross those racial borders. As the authors conclude, “Such a pattern perpetuates, and perhaps worsens, urban inequality.”

Second, it is not just those who are displaced that gentrification hurts. There is an even larger category of left-behinds, those whose neighborhoods are essentially impervious to upgrading. These are the areas where poverty, race, and class have their most persistent effects, reinforcing and compounding concentrated disadvantage.


Many years ago I used to live near the village, and much has changed. I'm sure the eastside has also changed. Phil was a classmate and a good friend, He's gone too. i'm sure the neighborhood has radically changed since then. I wonder with the gentrification and other changes boh in the neighborhood and the churchj if they ever considered an adult education center. There are so many new ideas with the explosion of the ideas of Teihard de Chardin, the teaching of Sister Ilia Delio, and other lecturers.Maybe it woud be a place to bring the church Into the 21st century. With the study of science and the church, there many exciting ideas. 

I worked years ago at a nonprofit housed in the Rapp Arts Center in the East Village (East 4th Street in Alphabet City)  The Rapp Arts Center was owned by the Archdiocese; in addition to gritty art space , there were nonprofits there, includng homeless services organizations.

 I just googled it and found ithat, before the Rapp Arts Center was alternative performance space/artists quarters, it was orginally a Catholic boys school.  Today,its no longer an arts space, but is the the Cornelia Connolly Center, a a school for low-income girls.  I'm kind of comforted that things recycle along with the neighborhood. 

One issue in gentrifying areas is the possibility that existing services for the poor may be pushed out on the theory tnat they are no longer needed because the new people living in the area are affluent. However, people who are homeless, by definition, never rented or owned in the area. They have other reasons for seeing it as their home base and congregating there. That is one reason St. Francis House still serves 800 poor and homeless people a day even though you will have to pay thousands of dollars a month to rent an apartment in that area. 

The danger is that the new, affluent, residents of the area may argue that it is inappropriate to have facilities for the poor in their now upscale neighborhood - that encountering poor people on the sidewalk isn't part of the lifestyle they thought they sere buying into. i think it's important to think the issue through carefully before agreeing too readily to close or move services for the poor out of gentrified areas. That may still be the most effective place for them to be.

The NYTimes has another article in which the Mayor is asking churches to help in a different but related issue

New York City is asking religious leaders to help overcome community resistance to new homeless shelters after a series of testy confrontations in neighborhoods where they are being placed.

More than 54,000 people are currently homeless in the city, and with space tight, the city has been opening new shelters at a rapid clip, in some cases stirring controversy. In recent weeks, 500 people turned out in Elmhurst, Queens, to protest the opening of a shelter for families in the former Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard. Hundreds attended a town-hall-style meeting to object to the opening of another shelter for families in East Elmhurst. And members of a community board in Glendale threatened to sue to stop the city from opening a shelter in their neighborhood.

John Hynes

Thank you for supplying this valuable information about the effects of gentrification on the poor. It is a very difficult problem, which Ms. Steinfels described as a lack of "enthusiam" for the homeless in NY.  Well who should be enthusiastic for them?  How about the Archdiocese of New York, which is what Pope Frances wants?  It is otherwise enthusiastic for theater artists, who have a difficult time finding affordable rehearsal space or theater space in which to ply their trade.  Can we not see what is wrong with this picture?  Mr. Armour is cleaning himself at a park sprinkler, while rich donors for the Sheen Center are filling their flutes at champagne fountains.  This is not rocket science and all the complications of the demographics of gentrification in NYC and how "property melts into money" do not amount to a hill of beans when the Archdiocese has within its power the means to take care of the poor.

Oops.  John Hayes.  I had the image of Heide Hynes in my mind for what she said as recounted in the article I earlier referenced:


“People who are poor help people who are poor more than rich people do,” she said. “That’s because we live with each other and know each other. Other people think the poor are trying to scam them. That’s the saddest part of the hyper-segregation of this city, that people in need are deemed unworthy.


The poor know this and that is why the ction of the Archdiocese in closing the Holy Name Center is so despicable.

The tradition of Christian Humanism is of huge significance as a bridge between church and culture and in that sense is a pillar of evangelization. How that tradtiion should be enacted is a different question -- it can't be just a matter of prelates throwing money at the arts.

Bland talk of "the true, the good and the beautiful" is something that theologians are too prone to, possibly under the influence of Von Balthasar. 20th century art has a different, more questioning and vulnerable approach to these "transcendentals". The church should be in close dialogue with the art of our time (which should have a major place in our liturgy too, as Vatican II urged) and should not be seen as shoring up a conventional and consumerist monopoly of the art of the past.

"The homeless are the people we step over on our way to the opera" -- Do we need to challenge the hyper-expensive opera industry, and promote instead chamber music, for example, which allows a far greater variety of repertoire and openness to new music? 

Being poor is associated with disgrace. Having money is aligned with respect. However the talk. Those with money are admired and sought by the non profits seeking donations. While the poor are disgraced and need help. The literature of the church excels with stories of the superior culture of the church. While the poor who may have the "preferntial option", are still pitied and dishonored. The essential passion of Christ is that the is a disgraced, dishonorable man. 

Francis of Assiss basically told Innocent III and the rest of the church that they had all their priorities  mixed up. Francis keeps talking about humility. But few get it. 

In the book "Literature of the Great Migration 1880-1943, ItaloAmericano" there is the story of the Bootblack who is ashamed that he has to shine the shoes of a black person who has no or little cultural history while he, an Italian, comes from the great culture of Dante, the Caesars, Italian Painters etc. That bothers him more than the fact that he has to shine shoes for a living. When Frank McCourt's outstanding memoir "TIs" came out, many Irish persons resented that he talked about the poverty in Ireland; something they did not want to remember or be associated with. 

Italians have the name for "Bella Figura"; putting on the big show. But all groups possess this pride. 

The arts center is the big show. The homeless are people to forget. However, the cover-up words.

The tradition of Christian Humanism is of huge significance as a bridge between church and culture and in that sense is a pillar of evangelization. 

Yes, I agree.  And I believe that we set up a false dichotomy if we claim that the church can help the poor or it can support the arts but it can't do both at the same time.  It can do both of these and many other things, all at the same time.  And that cuts the other way, too: the church can't neglect the poor in order to focus on the arts.


One issue in gentrifying areas is the possibility that existing services for the poor may be pushed out on the theory tnat they are no longer needed because the new people living in the area are affluent. However, people who are homeless, by definition, never rented or owned in the area. They have other reasons for seeing it as their home base and congregating there. 

I agree.  My own experience in working with the homeless is that they want the same things that everyone wants - food, shelter, safety, security, stability.  They will tend to be where these things are available.  

There is no natural constituency for the homeless.  It is in nobody's self-interest to look out for the homeless.  There is no setting in America today in which the homeless "add value".   If the church does not stand for and with the homeless, there is a risk that nobody will.


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