St. Francis of Assissi, Manhattan, NY, USA

In 1844 the area of the streets in the 30 numbers was the edges of New York City and was mostly made up of dirt tracks and small houses. The pastor of St. John the Baptist’s Church on West 30th Street, Father Zachary Kunz, found himself with a dilemma that year as the Bishop of New York locked him out of the church over a dispute with the parish’s lay trustees.

Father Kunz did not want to leave his congregation without a church, so he began to petition the Bishop to allow for a new church to be built. Land was purchased very close by – on 31st Street – and work began in May 1844. Father Kunz decided to dedicate the new church to the patron saint of peacemakers – St. Francis of Assisi.

The church was completed and by 1890 was thriving. In 1892 it was enlarged. As New York continued to expand northwards the core of the congregation also began to change. The area became the centre of New York’s once notorious ‘tenderloin’ district and the congregation became one of itinerant workers and shift workers. One of the first things the church did was set up a Mass at different times during the day to allow for those travelling or working unsociable hours to be able to worship. This was the birth of the concept of the “Urban Service Church” which did not keep regular hours but was more often open than not.

In 1929 St. Francis of Assisi Church was the site of the very first “breadline” – to feed the poor and dispossessed during the Great Depression. It has continued ever since.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Church was one of the most popular in Manhattan and extensions were made to it on several occasions. Today it is the focus of communities from Central America, the Philippines and Korea. In 1992 it celebrated its centenary and continues to be one of the most active churches in New York.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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