The Church of Notre Dame began in 1910 – not first as a church, but as a chapel; not first as a parish, but as a mission. It is hard to realize, looking at the busy, cosmopolitan area of Morningside Heights today, that not so many years ago, even within the memories of some still living, this area was undeveloped with open land and a sparse population. That, however, was the case as Notre Dame began life as a mission of the Church of St. Vincent de Paul (on West 24th Street). A French community of priests, the Fathers of Mercy, was entrusted with the care of this mission in the early years of this century as there were many French immigrants in this community.
In time the French community was integrated with other ethnic groups that found Notre Dame to be their home: Irish, German, Italian, African-American, Hispanic and Filipino. Notre Dame today is as ethnically diverse as the city and neighborhood in which it thrives. The present community of Notre Dame is enriched by its association with St. Luke’s Hospital where many of its parishioners work and where our pastoral care is so important. In 1988, a new stage in Notre Dame’s history began when its other great neighbor in Morningside Heights, Columbia University, was officially included in its pastoral mission. For the first time, the Pastor of Notre Dame was appointed the Catholic Chaplain at Columbia.
Art and Architecture
On March 25, 1910, plans were first adopted for a chapel to be built in Morningside Heights. The grotto chapel was dedicated by Archbishop Farley (later Cardinal Farley) on October 2, 1910. The chapel was completed in October 1911. Very soon, an expansion of the church became necessary – an expansion which would go on intermittently for nearly 50 years. The architects for the new church were Cross and Cross. They modeled the structure after the Church of Saint Louis in Paris, better known as L’Eglise des Invalides and as the final resting place of Napoleon the First.
The designer of Notre Dame’s altar was Edmond Becker, a French artist. Becker worked in white marble and gilt bronze, and created a matching altar, pulpit, and Communion rail. The focal point of the altar is an eight-foot-high Crucifix, with the Blessed Mother and Saint John flanking Jesus on either side of the Cross. Bas-reliefs around the altar illustrate the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Coronation of Mary. Bas-reliefs of the four evangelists adorn the pulpit. The heads of Christ, His Mother and His Beloved Disciple, were made of enamel and illuminated electrically.
When the New York City Landmarks Commission designated the Church and the Rectory of Notre Dame as landmarks in January, 1967, the buildings were described as follows:
“The Church of Notre Dame is an outstanding example of the French neo-classical style adapted to a relatively small ecclesiastical design…. The building achieves a sense of monumentality through the imposing front entrance portico. The interior of the church is also perceived as a grand space because of the ingenious use of colossal marble columns at the side aisles which spring into soaring arches, dwarfing its visitors. The Rectory, based on Italian Renaissance precedents, is skillfully related to the church and well designed to fit the unusually narrow site.”
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Church of Notre Dame
405 W 114th St
New York, NY 10025