Broken windows, broken faith


To the editor:

I wrote to The Riverdale Press recently about the condition of Visitation Church and its surrounding grounds. I will not refer to Visitation as either “property” or “former.” The condition of this physical condition of the church and its surroundings at that time was shameful.

This interim period only has seen it worsen, and to the point untenable. There is no excuse for this condition to be such so as to assault our senses and to insult the generations of faithful who have held this holy ground in their minds’ eye as well as at the core of their memorial hearts.

Since that last Sunday in July 2015, it’s been remembered and said by countless people that Visitation was their home as much as their own homes.

And that within those walls were the repository of their lives — lives that felt joy, sadness, bittersweet and, unfortunately, tragedy.

Those moments and memories joined us to the very structure of the church as though we were brick and mortar. No ritual or canonical prescription can undo that. Visitation was our holy ground.

So how then are we to look at the negligent physical condition of the church and of the school building and the surroundings without being hurt beyond measure and demanding of an explanation from the Archdiocese? And I must add here: Why isn’t the community demanding both answers and satisfaction?

I noted in the aforementioned letter to The Press that each day thousands of motorists pass by on the Major Deegan Expressway as well as on Van Cortlandt Avenue South, and are able to see the blighted condition and the ugly urban signature of graffiti. Do the residents of this proud neighborhood want strangers and travelers to see and to think less of our community?

I don’t think so. Quite the opposite.

The Archdiocese must not only explain this neglect, but also must right this wrong. We should note that those aforementioned thousands of motorists pass by a structure that is obviously a church outlined against the sky. Those people see that the blight and neglect is a church. What are they to think?

The most current St John’s Parish Bulletin contains an update on the “former Visitation Parish property.” Let me say this: This type of header really doesn’t contribute positively to our emotions or grievance. We are told what we already knew: The Archdiocese is in ongoing negotiations with the School Construction Authority as well as with a third party.

We can leave aside any editorializing about our ne’er-do-well elected officials dealing with another cinderblock dysfunctional education warehouse on the footprint where once stood one of the finest schools of the Archdiocese.

What really disturbs in this update is the assertion of the pastor that preventive measures have been taken to secure the “property” (there’s that unfortunate word again) and that “the vandalism and graffiti that has occurred is deplorable and symptomatic of present societal trends of what frequently happens to vacant properties in our neighborhood and throughout the city.”

I am sorry but that is no answer. Worse yet, it is an insulting answer. What still exists within us cannot be referred to as a vacant property. As hard as it is sometimes to accept passages of time and place, there always has to be a decency present.

We understand change and the ways of canonical law, but as long as Visitation stands in its profile against that sky, it must be afforded that respect and decency. It is lying in repose, and we are its mourning kin.

The Archdiocese had — and has — an absolute responsibility to afford this respect and decency. Where has the Archdiocese been since the key went into the lock in July 2019, and when it’s thriving school closed over a year later? Why wasn’t the area policed on a monthly basis? Why was the rot of graffiti not combatted immediately? Why was the Archdiocese silent at such a public display of its negligence?

The parishioners of Visitation were not only loyal to the church, but generous as well. Is the Archdiocese unfamiliar with the word “reciprocity”? It would not have taken that much to recognize the good works of its faithful servants and to provide solace and care during these mournful years of mourning and repose.

The Cardinal visited St John’s late last month. One has to wonder if he was drivenby the “property” and, in effect, became one of those countless motorists that drive by each day and wonder why.

It is to the shame of the Archdiocese that in our hurt we are left to wonder why, and to pray that our faith does not rest on the last line of a ledger.

James Dalton