St. Brigid's rebuilds

Last year, the future of the Manhattan landmark was secured when an anonymous donor gave $20 million to the Archdiocese. He or she specified that half of the money would be set aside to fully restore the church, which had weakened structurally due to environmental factors in recent years but also had been badly damaged by demolition crews.

Edwin Torres, the former chief usher at the parish and chairman of the campaign to save the church, said he has met with the workers there. "They are all Irish," he said of the architect, construction manager and workers.

"I sometimes have difficulty understanding them," he added, with a laugh.

"You get a sense of what they're doing and how far they're going down," he said. "It's not clean work. The water table is so high there."

Torres said the north and south walls have been reinforced. "They are currently working on the center support," he said.

County Tipperary architect Patrick C. Keely, who went on to construct 700 houses of worship over 50 years along the Eastern seaboard of North America, was involved in its original construction in 1848-49. But so too were Irish shipwrights, whose carved images adorned St. Brigid's pillars. Those early construction workers were among the earliest recruits to the 69th Regiment, just as St. Brigid's first pastors acted as its chaplains.

Asked how he felt going into the church following the long campaign to save it, Torres said: "I did get a sense of satisfaction, absolutely. But I always had that faith that I would be back in there."

Torres and his wife Migdalia were invited to a recent Mass celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Dolan at Our Lady of Guadalupe on 14th Street. The chairman of the Save St. Brigid's Committee was among those who introduced themselves to the archbishop afterwards. "A line formed very quickly. I figured that out beforehand," he said.

Torres reported that the prelate is very much interested in progress at St. Brigid's and suggested a meeting at a later stage.

"I was very impressed with him," he said.

No date has been set for the reopening of the 160-year-old church.

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