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Located on West 49th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1902. And although the years have seen many changes in the neighborhood of the church, St. Malachy's remains today, an active, integral part of its most unusual, most dynamic community. St. Malachy's service to its community was comparable to that of most other Catholic churches in New York City up until about 1920. Then the Theatre District moved in and suddenly, actors, dancers, musicians, craftsmen, and tourists were filling the seats, replacing the types of parishioners St. Malachy's had seen in previous years.
Fortunately, the priests and leaders of St. Malachy's have all been men and women of their times, and so, adapted St. Malachy's to meet the needs of its new parishioners. Masses, confessions, missions were all rearranged to accommodate the rigors of theatre and nightclub schedules. And, finally, with the construction of the Actors' Chapel below the main church in 1920, St. Malachy's became famous as a haven of worship for the entertainment community….
Fairbanks married Joan Crawford at St. Malachy's. Herb Shriner's children were baptized here. Thousands jammed West 49th Street outside the church in final tribute to Rudolph Valentino. George M. Cohan, Spencer Tracy, Perry Como, Irene Dunne, Hildegarde, Florence Henderson, Elaine Stritch, Lawrence Luckinbill, Rosiland Russell, Danny Thomas, Bob and Dolores Hope and Ricardo Montalban, all worshipped at St. Malachy's. Fred Allen, Don Ameche, Cyril Ritchard, Pat O'Brien and Jimmy Durante served many a mass.
As late as 1968, over 16,000 people monthly attended St. Malachy's; and on opening nights, many in show business came to light candles for the success of their shows. But sweeping change came again. Madison Square Garden moved away. The night clubs closed. Massage parlors, porn shops, prostitution and drugs moved in and the neighborhood became unstable. Theater people and tourists feared lingering in the area and stopped visiting St. Malachy's. Much of the parish's congregation moved away. Most who stayed were elderly and poor. Many were held virtually under siege in decaying single-room occupancy hotels and tenements with tubs in kitchens and shared bathrooms in hallways.
The church and its people were suffering, and vandalism and theft were weekly occurrences. But in 1976, Father George W. Moore was assigned to St. Malachy's and set in motion yet another wave of far-reaching change. A pastoral team concept was initiated, which included not only priests and sisters, but also a group of caring men and women of all faiths. Their mission was to renew the long tradition of St. Malachy's: ministering to people of the neighborhood and finding the answers to their needs. To this end, staff members actively participated in a variety of local and community organizations, including Community Boards 4 & 5, the Mayor's Midtown Citizens Committee, The Broadway Association, the League of American Theaters and Producers, the Theater Development Fund, Actor's Equity, 42nd Street Civic Association, 42nd Street Redevelopment Association and the Clinton Planning Council.
One of the outstanding accomplishments of their efforts was the 1977 establishment of Encore Community Services to serve the needs of senior citizens. Its simple purpose, to improve the quality of life of the elderly living in the Times Square/Clinton/Midtown communities, Encore provides seniors with healthy meals, shopping escorts and social events. St. Malachy's has become a well-known voice to our legislators not only on a local level, but city, state and federal levels as well. St. Malachy's commitment to the aging population has led to participation in the New York City Department of Aging, Council of Senior Centers and Services, the Clinton Advisory Council on the Aging, the Lower Westside Interagency Council on Aging, and the Boro-wide Interagency Council on the aging.
In recent years, Rev. Richard D. Baker, pastor (2004-present), has continued Fr. Moore’s vision of the Church serving the community. Under Fr. Baker's pastorate, St. Malachy’s parish registry has grown and increasing desire for all sacraments is evidence of a spiritually fervent community. With its unique demographic of local parishioners, tourists and performing arts professionals, St. Malachy’s has remained a place where ‘Catholics can always come home' and where people of all backgrounds are welcome. St. Malachy's continues to be a symbol of faith, hope and love, living out the Gospel message, in the 'hustle and bustle' of Times Square.