Situated on Christopher Street in New York City, St. Veronica’s Catholic Church which was founded in 1890 and sat directly in the middle of Ground Zero during the AIDS Crisis. But unlike many other institutions with ties to the Roman Catholic Church which had shut out most of the AIDS victims. St. Veronica’s and nearby St. Vincent’s Hospital did all they could to help and lend comfort to the plagues victim’, their friends and family.
In 1985 the church rectory was given to some of Mother Teresa’s nuns, who opened one of the city’s early AIDS hospice centers. A few years later, in 1991, the church installed the memorial, a series of plaques with the names of men who died from the disease drilled into the choir loft. A small table with fresh flowers and a lone candle completed the memorial.
For many, this out-of-the-way memorial, somewhat hidden up in a choir loft, was one of the few places where they could grieve the deaths of loved ones. Ms. Cook said she often witnessed individuals climbing the rickety wooden steps leading up to the memorial.
“It was the saddest thing you’ve ever seen. You just wanted to cry,” she said.
The Rev. Kenneth Smith, the pastor of the church beginning in 1990, said he reached out to leaders from the gay community to see how the church might help.
Monsignor Smith said people dying from AIDS often had no one to pray with them, a role he tried to fill for several years during the height of the crisis.
“It was like to ministering to anyone else who’s dying from a disease. If you were a priest, you’d understand what I mean,” he said. “They’d go to a hospital. I visited them in the hospital. I administered the sacraments. I’d be with them when they died. I would celebrate their funerals.”
But some in St. Veronica’s congregation were not as kind. “It was difficult. Extremely difficult,” Monsignor Smith said. “There were many people who didn’t think the church should be involved with people who were suffering from AIDS or involved in the burial of people who died with AIDS.”
But still St. Veronica’s remained steadfast in support of not only the victims of the dreaded disease but also the LGBT community as a whole opening its halls to support groups and Gay AA and NA meetings.
After the attendance of parishioners began to dwindle the church itself was downgraded from a parish a decade ago and is now in danger of being sold off by the Catholic church and has put the AIDS memorial in danger. The future of the building is unknown but despite the fact that it was granted landmark status cannot be torn down or significantly altered the memorial itself would be taken from Christopher Street and put in storage for “possible” future use in other churches.”
Or it might be lost forever, like the lives it represents.
No matter what religion you are or what you believe. PLEASE take a moment to write or call The Archdioceses of New York and demand that St. Veronica’s and it’s AIDS Memorial be saved and be sure to check out the Village AIDS Memorial Facebook Page.
Archdioceses of New York
1011 First Ave
New York, NY 10021