Posts Tagged ‘St. Brigid’s Avenue B’

The East Village’s loveliest 19th century bell

September 14, 2013

StbrigidschurchAfter St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church underwent an expensive (and very beautiful) renovation from 2008 to 2012, church leaders reportedly didn’t have enough funds left over to put the church bell back in the tower.

So now the bell sits in front of the church on Avenue B and Eighth Street, quietly greeting passersby.

It’s a wonderful piece of East Village history dating to 1858—just 10 years after St. Brigid’s was built.

That’s when it was known as the “famine church,” as it was constructed by Irish immigrants who lived in the 19th century Dry Dock District (bas reliefs of some of their haunting faces decorate the beams inside).


This is a church bell with a rebel streak. In 1991, during the Tompkins Square Park riots, it played a key role warning protestors that police were heading into the park.

“Local activists, planning a response to the melee, were surprised when the bells of St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B tolled early on June 3 to signal the arrival of hundreds of police officers at the park,” recalled The New York  Times in a 2011 article.

Father Ritter and the runaways of Times Square

February 2, 2012

As a young Franciscan priest serving St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B, Father Bruce Ritter began opening his East Seventh Street apartment to runaway kids who had no place else to go.

From those humble beginnings came Covenant House, which served homeless street youths—first on LaGuardia Place, then in larger quarters near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the late 1970s.

He described his mission as helping kids “find a way out of the gutters and brothels and strip joints where their young bodies are in demand as objects of pleasure for lustful adults.”

In the 1980s, he was constantly lauded by politicians. Millions in donations flowed in.

Until 1990, that is, when a male hustler accused him of setting him up in an apartment in exchange for sex.

Soon, more young men made similar accusations. Father Ritter then came under fire for financial improprieties.

The Franciscans ordered him to take a leave in 1990. He resigned, denying the allegations.

Later that year, an independent investigation found substantial evidence that he had made sexual advances toward young men associated with Covenant House since the 1970s.

Father Ritter lay low for the rest of his life, dying of cancer in upstate New York in 1999.

Covenant House didn’t end with Father Ritter. It still serves homeless kids here in New York at its West 41st Street shelter as well as in cities across the country.