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Historic Black parish to be revived in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen

St. Benedict the Moor Church, Hell's Kitchen

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J-P Mauro - published on 11/06/23

Deconsecrated in 2017, St. Benedict the Moor's New York City parish, the first Black church north of the Mason-Dixon Line, will once more be a place of worship.

A historic Catholic parish in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen is being revived as a Christian church after its de-consecration in 2017. Famed as the first Black Catholic church north of the Mason-Dixon line, St. Benedict the Moor is to be reinstated as an active place of worship. Prior to reopening, the building will be renovated and a separate structure will be erected to include residences and a community center.

According to the local Hell’s Kitchen publication W42ST, the renovations will cost around $2.5 million. While the price of the secondary building was not listed, it is expected to be six floors, spanning 21,500 feet. The upper floors will include eight residential suites, and the first floor will serve as a center for the church’s events. The new building will be located on the same road as St. Benedict the Moor’s, W. 53rd Street, however they will not be right next to each other. 

Daniel Bernstein of Kutnikii Bernstein Architects, the firm that will take on the renovation work, confirmed that the church will be refitted to serve as a place of worship. Of the renovations to the structure, he explained: 

“The improvements consist of exterior restoration of the front facade, on grade accessible entrance, elevator to access sanctuary and cellar,” he added. “We have endeavored to maintain the historic character of the facade due to its historical significance.”

The move to restore St Benedict’s was made by billionaire couple Walter and Shirley Wang, who came into possession of the church when their charitable foundation acquired the building from the Archdiocese of New York, in January 2023. The couple explained that their dedication to Christianity and philanthropy – which includes AIDS research and improving economic conditions in Africa – were born from Walter’s close call with late-stage cancer. 

The Wangs have previously commented to the Global Chinese Philanthropy Initiative

“Life is very fragile but also extremely precious. What we do in our lifetime defines who we are. It is truly a blessing to give.”

In a correspondence with Aleteia, the Archdiocese of New York confirmed that St. Benedict the Moor’s will not be reinstated as a Catholic church, and will not be affiliated with the archdiocese. Reports were unclear as to which Christian denomination, if any, would make use of this historic church.

While the plans to renovate St. Benedict’s are completed and funded, the question of landmarking it as a protected historic site are still up in the air. The conversations started when the church was de-consecrated in 2017, when members of Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4)’s Land Use Committee recommended it be landmarked. They said that it holds significant cultural, ethnic, and religious historical value to the people of Hell’s Kitchen. 

Joe Restuccia, a member of the MCB4 committee commented to W42ST: 

“The significance of this church is not even in question — this is an important historic landmark for Hell’s Kitchen,” said Restuccia. “We should absolutely be preserving it, and it’s for no lack of local effort that it hasn’t happened yet — but there has been a lack of political willpower to get it done.” 

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