Three Years Ago: Preservationists call for Archeological review of Mary Help of Christians cemetery

GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman at the Mary Help of Christians rally, May 22, 2013.  Photo courtesy of The Villager.

GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman at the Mary Help of Christians rally, May 22, 2013. Photo courtesy of The Villager.

Three years ago, EV Grieve published a post about the preservationists calling for an archeological review for the former cemetery at Mary Help of Christians site.  A Roman Catholic Church formerly located at 440 E. 12th St., Mary Help of Christians was demolished in the summer of 2013 to make way for new development.  To try and preserve the site, there was an outpouring from the community in an effort to protest the demolition and save the historic structure.  A rally was also organized by GVSHP and allied community and preservation groups and Mary Help of Christian Parishioners on May 22 of that year.

Many organizations, including GVSHP, called for a complete archeological review to take place on the former cemetery of the church.  According to a press release at the time of the rallies:

“The church was formerly the site of the cemetery of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where thousands of people were buried starting in the early 19th century. This was only the third and at the time the largest Catholic Cemetery in New York. While the graveyard was moved to Calvary Cemetery in Queens in 1909, it is not known if all remains were removed and cleared from the site or if some still lie in burial underneath.

The preservation organizations have written to developer Douglas Steiner and the city’s Department of Buildings and Landmarks Preservation Commission to notify them that a very large cemetery was formerly found on this site, and calling for a complete archaeological evaluation of the site as required by law in such cases before any work proceeds, to prevent disturbance of any burial site or human remains which may remain here.”

Mary Help of Christians call to rally flyer.  Image courtesy of EV Grieve.

Mary Help of Christians call to rally flyer. Image courtesy of EV Grieve.

Unfortunately, the site never was given an archeological investigation.  On top of that, Mary Help of Christian had been rejected landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2012.  As we come on the heels of The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Open House Weekend, we here at GVSHP want to take this time to highlight a site that was an important part of the Village but is no longer with us.  You can read more about Mary Help of Christians as the center of the Italian community here, as well as memories of the church by former parishioner Janet Bonica here.

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Matthew Morowitz