New York’s Churches Get a Boost from Local Businesses

Unlike its sister cities across the pond, New York City isn’t noted for its soaring cathedrals — unless we’re talking about cathedrals of commerce — or precious neighborhood churches. In Manhattan and close-in parts of the outer boroughs, towering buildings crowd out even the most ambitious steeples.

But that doesn’t mean New York isn’t a city of churches. The metropolis’s 8.5 million residents practice every imaginable faith, gathering regularly at the call of untold thousands of bells to worship and leave their worldly troubles behind. Unfortunately, the buildings in which New York’s faithful congregate are often in a sorry state. Due to dwindling congregations and tough economic conditions, many of the city’s churches face insolvency and are unable to afford even the most basic maintenance.

A Solemn Partnership Takes Root in Brooklyn

That’s where prosperous companies like Start Elevator come in. New York City has been good to Start and its ilk, and the company resolved some years ago to give back in meaningful fashion. It found the perfect opportunity in the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, an historic structure in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood.

According to a Start Elevator release, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church sustained more than $500,000 in damage during Hurricane Sandy, mostly due to basement flooding. And even before the hurricane, the institution was on shaky financial ground: Beset by rising crime in the neighborhood and an aging, dwindling congregation, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church nearly closed in the early 2010s.

In the end, rank-and-file parishioners stepped up to plug the church’s gaping financial hole before and after the hurricane — the basement, critically, is now more or less like new. But there was one project that proved frustratingly out of reach for the flock: The elevator that ferried people and supplies from the church’s main floor to its basement.

According to Start Elevator, repairing the hurricane-damaged elevator would have cost anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000, an unmanageable sum for a tapped-out congregation and near-insolvent church. So Start Elevator owner John O’Shea did what any decent person would: He offered to take on the project free of charge. Fast forward to 2015 and the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church is back on its feet — and moving comfortably from floor to floor.

“When John learned of the parish’s hardship, he realized he could do a small deed that would have a huge impact. We never asked him to fix the elevator for free, but the fact that he offered to do so shows what a good man he is. Generosity must come from the heart – from the Lord – and John genuinely cared and was very kind,” says Father Eamon Murray, the church leader.

New York City’s Business Community Can Lead by Example

Start Elevator’s partnership with a single Brooklyn church won’t revitalize the city’s storied religious building stock overnight. But it offers a clear indication that even relatively small businesses can have an outsize impact on hundreds-strong congregations — and immeasurably improve the character and vitality of the neighborhoods that host them. Here’s to a future in which successful companies like Start Elevator invest directly in historic preservation and keep their communities in touch with what matters most.