A dust-up between RIOC (Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation) and several of the Island’s religious groups has occurred over work at the Good Shepherd Chapel that the groups claim has damaged their property and, without adequate notice, forced them to move services.
Two weekends ago, many Catholic, Episcopalian and Hope Church parishioners went to Good Shepherd Center for services only to find that they were locked out. According to them, the locks had been changed. Two of the parishes, Catholic and Episcopalian, did not have access to objects customarily used in worship services.
One Catholic parishioner said, “We had no way to find out whether mass was going to be at Good Shepherd or at the Chapel and we didn’t receive any email or notice, nor was there anything posted at Good Shepherd or the chapel [to let us know].” A Hope Church parishioner said Hope Pastor Dan Sadlier posted a last-minute notification on Facebook, since taken down, to change the venue for Hope’s Sunday Service to the Cultural Center across the street.
RIOC, in the person of President Charlene Indelicato, claimed that the church groups had been notified of the work to be done, and that no damage had taken place.
An usher for the Catholic parish received an email late Friday alerting her that mass would take place in the downstairs of Good Shepherd Center on Sunday. This limited access to Good Shepherd did not extend to a cabinet where religious artifacts are stored. Because it is normally locked, parishioners were concerned that movers, unaware of contents, may have moved them in such a way that holy water or wine had spilled on other items in the cabinet, or that fragile items might have been broken. (This later turned out to be the case.) With collection baskets unavailable, food trays had to be used for collections at displaced services.
Parishioners also expressed concern that the wooden chairs (property of the Catholic parish) may have been damaged in careless stacking by workers.
As it turned out, Good Shepherd’s floors were being renovated. According to an anonymous congregant of the the Catholic Church, “We were never told that the floors were going to be replaced. They certainly would need work at some time, but I never imagined that this kind of work with RIOC would be so poorly coordinated with the existing tenants, the three churches. Donna [Masly, RIOC Program Assistant] said she shared the information as she got it, but did she not know that they were planning floor work, or what the schedule was? I don’t understand why this was never communicated to us, especially considering we had a meeting with Donna Masly just two weeks prior.”
The congregant said that, had the parish known, “We would have had an organ company come out and protect the organ. They would have disconnected the wires and sealed the pipes so no sawdust entered into the pipes. In addition, we keep chalices, a ciborium, holy water, wine, holy oils and unconsecrated hosts in the cabinet, as well as the Holy Missal and Lector books, clothing for altar servers, and so on. [These items are] essential elements for our Mass, that can easily be ruined by moving them.”
Good Shepherd Center
Good Shepherd, which also serves as a community center, houses many of the Island’s secular meetings, classes, and events as well. A Community Conversation, hosted by Ben Kallos and the New York Public Library (NYPL), was scheduled for January 14 in the Good Shepherd Center. Islanders got word that the meeting venue was changed to the Cultural Center about two hours before the meeting was scheduled to start.
A member of the Catholic congregation told The WIRE that, once their choir director gained access to Good Shepherd for practice on January 6, (RIOC had changed the locks), he discovered that the pipe organ’s wires had been cut and it had been moved, that their cabinets were moved, that their altar had been moved, and that construction garbage had been piled on the altar. “We had to discover the extent of the disruption. Donna Masly did not tell us in advance about the floor work, or tell us about the damage and disruption to the parish’s stuff.”
Reports indicate that neither the piano nor the organ were covered during renovation work. While the piano survived, the organ is likely to need professional repair.
RIOC President Charlene Indelicato tells a different story First, Indelicato says, “RIOC booked five working days in Good Shepherd. The only permit during that time was for choir practice one evening for two hours. The permit holder was notified and arrangements were made to use the large room downstairs. On Thursday when it became clear that contractors would not finish in time for Sunday services, those who had permits were notified by email and alternate arrangements were made.”
Specifically, Indelicato says notice was given to the Catholic Parish via email on January 5 regarding moving the following day’s choir practice. She says they were notified that Sunday services had to take place elsewhere at a 10:00 a.m. meeting on Thursday, January 7. She says the Episcopalian parish was notified via email at 10:45 am on January 7 and that Hope Church received its notice at a 1:00 p.m. meeting on that same day.
Indelicato says that the New York Public Library (NYPL) was emailed on January 13 regarding the following day’s meeting. She said, “Although the downstairs was available in Good Shepherd, we felt that there may have been an issue with fumes and therefore changed the Library meeting to the Cultural Center. Unfortunately, we did not estimate the time to cure.”
(Although Indelicato notified NYPL, Islanders did not receive word of the change until about two hours prior.)
Regarding damage and care taken in handling sacred objects, Indelicato contradicts representatives of the congregations: “There was no damage. Representatives of the various congregations were present at different times when RIOC staff set up the facility. The organ was checked for problems by a church representative.”
The result of this incident for a lot of Islanders has been outrage. Even assuming RIOC is correct about the dates and times they gave notice, many Islanders remain annoyed. In an email to RIOC, Frank Farance wrote, “It is impossible to comprehend the severe lack of coordination with your floor renovations at Good Shepherd Church.” In Farance’s view, RIOC should have communicated with church users and the community at large, allowed religious organizations to move their own sacred objects prior to work commencing, and made alternate arrangements for services and meetings well in advance.
In an email to the RIOC Board of Directors, Residents Association Councilor Lynne Shinozaki characterized the situation as a “public space crisis.” She added, “The needs of our community are not being addressed and the sentiment in the community is that our voice is not heard.”