9/11 Statues, Reminders of Closed BPC Chapel, to Live On In Church Portico

Rendering of St. Peter's Church, with the four statues from St. Joseph's Chapel, mounted in the portico. Rendering: Nelson via The Tribeca Trib

Feb. 13, 2018

St. Joseph’s Chapel of Battery Park City closed last month, to the great sadness and, for some, anger of its parishioners. But the spirit of this tiny house of worship will live on—as close as Church Street and as far away as Africa.

As a command center and place of respite for first responders after 9/11, the chapel served as a memorial to the tragedy. Four statues of patron saints, created by artist John Collier to personify the bravery and lost lives on that day, have long stood in the chapel. Once approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, they will be placed on pedestals, a pair at each end of the portico of the parish’s sister church, St. Peter’s, at Barclay and Church Streets, an individual landmark. Other artwork from the chapel has already found a home inside St. Peter’s. Explanatory plaques will accompany the sculptures.

Each of four 9/11 groups—police officers, firefighters, the workers who died, and victims aboard the two planes—are represented by one of the four statues: St. Florian, St. Michael, St. Joseph or St. Mary Magdalene.

Chairs and other chapel furnishings will be going to a diocese in Ghana, where three churches are under construction. St. Peter’s, one of two remaining Catholic churches in a parish cluster that had included St. Joseph’s, works with priests from Ghana. It is anticipated that parishioners in those churches will celebrate St. Joseph’s annual feast day and say a 9/11 memorial mass each year.

“We were all devastated,” a parishioner, who asked not to be identified, said of the chapel’s closing. “Once we knew for sure it was out of our hands, that we did not have a choice, then the next step in moving forward was to know that everything would be respectfully taken care of.”

And the statues will be seen by more people, the parishioner added. “St. Joseph’s was always like the forgotten sibling and St. Peters is where they have more of the 9/11 pilgrimages and it’s more visible to tourists.”

Rent for the chapel more than tripled when the Archdiocese of New York renewed the lease with the LeFrak Organization in 2014. It was an increase later deemed unsustainable by the Archdiocese, which had subsidized the rent. Despite protests by parishioners and concessions proposed by LeFrak and the Battery Park City Authority, LeFrak’s landlord, the Archdiocese maintained that the chapel must close. A final mass was said on Jan. 7.

Justine Cuccia, a leader in the fight to save the chapel, said she and many others remain angry about the closing of St. Joseph’s and will likely not go to St. Peter’s Church. Still, she said, she is glad the statues have been saved.  “It’s better there than in a basement somewhere,” she said. “So for that piece of it I’m grateful."

Additional reporting by Dusica Sue Malesevic