July 20, 2023 By Bill Parry
The oldest Roman Catholic church in Queens was awarded a $20,000 grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy to help fund a much-need roof replacement.
St. Rafael RC Church in Long Island City was named the recipient of one of 22 Sacred Sites Grants that were recently awarded to historic religious properties across New York state. Constructed between 1881 to 1885 and attributed to the prolific Irish Catholic architect Patrick Keely, the church sits on the high ground in the Blissville section of Long Island City and served as a funeral chapel for Calvary Cemetery which was established in 1848 and has the largest number of interments in the nation with more than 3 million burials on its 365 acres that borders Maspeth, Woodside and Long Island City.
The Long Island Expressway divides the two sites and St. Rafael currently serves around 7,000 people in three languages: English, Spanish and Korean. The church is open for dance festivals and weekly English as a second language (ESL) classes, in addition to classes for developmentally disabled adults and a food pantry. The church also leases its former parochial school to a public school.
The Gothic-inspired reddish-brown church survived a massive blaze in 1932 and was nearly demolished three decades later. The New York Landmarks Conservancy Sacred Site program provides congregations with matching grants for planning and implementing exterior restoration projects, along with technical assistance and workshops. Since 1986, the program has pledged more than 1,600 grants totaling nearly $15 million to 840 religious institutions statewide.
“Our grants help maintain historic religious institutions that often anchor their communities,” New York Landmarks Conservancy President Peg Breen said. “Our recent grantees have food, cultural and outreach programs that reach well beyond their congregations.”
Since its founding, the conservancy has loaned and granted more than $60 million, which has leveraged almost $1 billion in 2,000 restoration projects throughout New York, revitalizing communities, providing economic stimulus and supporting local jobs. The private nonprofit organization also offers pro bono technical advice to building owners, both nonprofits and individuals.
The conservancy’s work has saved more than a thousand buildings across the city and state, protecting New York’s distinctive architectural heritage for future generations.