My visit to the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel came only a year after it merged with the Church of St. Thomas More in 2015. Though the two buildings remain open, the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel is considered the parish church. The reasons for the merger were spiritual, financial, and community-based. It is the hope of the combined parishes that they continue to grow stronger under one pastor. As for the history of the Our Lady of Good Counsel, the church had its beginnings in 1886 and moved into its current home in 1892. Though its origins were Irish and German, the Roman Catholic Church now embraces a diverse community and offers Spanish masses every week. Louisa, a member of the staff, led me into the beautifully ornate sanctuary. The altar was decorated with cherry blossoms for springtime, an attractive addition to the stained glass and marble. The vast, two-tiered space is blindingly colorful and features an enormous working organ. Music, Louisa informed me, plays a central role in the congregation. Louisa spoke to me about an event called Catholic Underground that happens on the first Saturday of every month from September through May. Hundreds of people, often young people in their teens or twenties, fill the sanctuary for an hour of “Eucharistic adoration. ” After the ceremony, everyone goes downstairs to the lower church where singers, bands, or individual musicians play. The musical groups come from around the world. As Louisa explained, the event began as a way of “bringing culture to the people. ” This did not originate in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, but has taken place there since the early 2000s. Though everyone is invited to attend, Catholic Underground’s primary goal is to connect with young people in the community... and it appears to be working nicely.
Bluestone Lane Coffee has proven itself adept at nestling into existing places around the city. I first encountered the Australian-style brand on 43rd Street, where they have made a home in Grace Plaza Pavilion. Their Upper East Side café has a unique design, since it is part of the Church of the Heavenly Rest building and has been crafted from an old chapel. The gothic architecture is a fascinating juxtaposition to the quinoa salads, avocado mash, and other healthy, modern items on the progressive café’s menu. The spot also offers table service, both for its indoor customers and those who choose to gaze out at Central Park from the sunny seating outdoors.
The story of the Church of the Heavenly Rest begins in 1865 when Dr. Robert Shaw Howland led the first services on 42nd Street. In 1868, the congregation was officially named the Church of the Heavenly Rest and construction began on a new church on Fifth Avenue near Grand Central Station. By the early twentieth century, the area had grown into a bustling business district and the congregation started looking to make the move to a more residential neighborhood where they would not have to compete with as many midtown places of worship. In 1924, Andrew Carnegie’s widow sold the church a plot of land across the street from her new home (now the Cooper Hewitt Museum). This is where Heavenly Rest built its now-landmarked sanctuary. I learned from Marion Morey, a parishioner who volunteers to greet visitors to the Episcopalian church (“We’re like the Catholics, but different, ” Marion tells each person who enters), that it is thanks to Mrs. Carnegie that the landmarked building looks the way it does. “She didn’t want the church to build a steeple, because it would cast a shadow on her lawn, ” she said with an amused smirk. In addition to the lack of steeple, the church is unique in that it embraced the Art Deco style that dominated skyscrapers at the time it was built. Marion pointed out that the sanctuary uses both Gothic and Art Deco designs in a seamless blend of aesthetics. She is especially fond of the cross behind the altar, which appears flush with the background at the bottom, but rises up and out towards the viewer near the top. “It means a lot to me, ” she said, elaborating on the themes of resurrection and rebirth that the church embraces. Marion also spoke to me about the fleur de lis designs in the chapel and the International School that is part of the church (“It’s a very good school, ” she commented, approvingly). I found it interesting to learn that the church serves as a women’s shelter, one of the few in the city. Ten women are invited to sleep in the sanctuary every Monday through Wednesday, with volunteer parishioners looking after them. When I visited in the spring of 2016, Marion was excited to announce that the church was undergoing some construction, adding a kitchen, elevator, and new bathrooms in the coming months. “We are building our own congregational space, ” she explained. Marion went on to say that there would soon be meeting rooms: before the construction project, the only place for church officials to meet has been the sanctuary, often in the choir stalls. Despite the changes and expansions that the church will undergo, Marion stressed that they will continue “to run like a very humble church. ” It was heart-warming to speak to someone who obviously had so much love for this house of worship. She told me in a low voice, “In the middle of the night, it’s extraordinary. It’s filled with so much spirit. ”