NOLITA, MANHATTAN, NY (WPIX)—St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in the NoLita neighborhood of Manhattan was the Roman Catholic cathedral of New York from the time it was built in 1815 to 1879, when a new cathedral -- St. Patrick's on Fifth Avenue -- was built. After Old St. Pat's, as it's called, was replaced as New York's cathedral, it was designated a parish church. That status is set to change significantly this coming weekend.
The former cathedral will be formally designated a basilica, which means that Pope Benedict XVI will recognize it as a church of special spiritual, historical and architectural significance. The basilica status will also make Old St. Patrick's the pope's own parish church in New York, and it will be the only basilica in New York state.
As a point of comparison, St. Peter's in Rome, where the pope regularly performs mass, is also a basilica. The only other basilica in the Tri-State area is the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, which is larger than St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, and is five times the size of Old St. Patrick's.
The interior of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral has been memorialized in film many times, most notably in a pivotal sequence in Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-winning classic, The Godfather.
In the film, the Michael Corleone character, played by Al Pacino, attends the christening of his nephew while a variety of assassinations of mafia leaders takes place. The assassinations have been ordered and organized by the character Pacino portrays, and the christening was filmed in St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.
Apart from its immortalization in film, neighborhood residents told PIX 11 News that they adore their landmark and appreciate its pending new designation by the Holy See.
"It's wonderful," a woman who lives around the corner from the church said. "I'm not very religious, but... we want to keep it in the neighborhood."
Donnell Beede agreed. "I can't help but look at it every time I walk by," she told PIX 11 News.
She will get the pleasure of viewing the church forever. St. Patrick's Old Cathedral already had New York City Landmark Preservation status, making it immune from the wrecking ball, but basilica status ensures that the building remains a church permanently. Landmark status merely preserves the structure and is not necessarily a guard against the building being used for a purpose other than that for which it was built.
The formal basilica inauguration mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Sunday morning at the church, located at the corner of Mulberry and Prince Streets.