The whole Newtown Creek thing causes me to spend a lot of time traveling back and forth to Greenpoint. Famously, I walk everywhere, and one of my regular routes (from Astoria) carries through the neighborhood of Blissville. Named for Greenpoint’s Neziah Bliss, the place was originally meant to be a sort of utopian workers community which would eschew liquor and sin – a very 19th century idea. That didn’t work out, mainly because of Calvary Cemetery getting dropped into the middle of the town.
It was because of Calvary, however, that St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church was built on what was then Greenpoint Avenue at the corner of Borden. Borden is now the Long Island Expressway, but Greenpoint Avenue and the church are still there.
35-20 Greenpoint Avenue is where you’ll find it.
A wooden frame building was built for St. Raphael’s in 1867, and that early structure served as the mortuary chapel for a newly built Calvary Cemetery which hadn’t yet expanded to its current size.
The current gothic influenced structure was completed in 1885, and has served both Calvary and the surrounding community since. The church is one of the highest points in these parts (Laurel Hill), and the church steeple acts as a reference point when one is negotiating the tangle of streets around the Newtown Creek. The architect is rumored to have been Patrick Keeley.
The Church doesn’t have much of an online presence, but this page at thecatholicdirectory.com describes their mass schedule. The Parish is named for St. Raphael, an archangel in the Catholic belief system.
The Church used to operate a Parochial School out of this location, which closed in 2012.
A series of photos from August of 2010, captured in a great moment of serendipity (I was literally just passing by), details an incredible religious parade which St. Raphael’s conducts. I have no idea what the whole thing was about, it had something to do with Demon Conquistadors and gorgeous Bolivian women – as far as I can tell – but WOW was it fun to watch. Shots are embedded as a slideshow below.
In case the Flickr slideshow below doesn’t function in your browser, here’s a direct link.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.