By Amy Ellis Nutt
c. 2008 Religion News Service

NEW YORK — Julia Winter was tending to her flock, passing out sheets of paper printed with the prayers and songs for the “Deutsche Messe.”
Here at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church last Sunday (April 6), the slightly stooped but elegant octogenarian looked much like the rest of the congregation — well-dressed, elderly and German.
St. Joseph’s, located in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, is the only Catholic church in New York City that celebrates a regularly scheduled German-language Mass.

Winter was born in northern Bavaria and has been a parishioner at this Upper East Side church since she started first grade at the grammar school next door. She also is the steward of St. Joseph’s German Committee, a post she has held for nearly four decades.
But with fewer than 90 people attending the monthly German Mass, Winter finds herself part of an ever-diminishing Old World immigrant community.
When Pope Benedict XVI stops here next week (April 18) during his visit to the city, he will find instead a multicultural, middle-class community with a solid German core.
“In the 1940s, the whole congregation knew all the German hymns, even the Hungarians knew them,” said Winter. “A lot of the (Germans) have died or moved out. The neighborhood today is very mobile.”
St. Joseph’s was established in 1873 during a wave of German immigration to the United States. Many of those early migrants settled on the Lower East Side, in an area that quickly became known as Klein Deutschland, “Little Germany.”
On June 15, 1904, the community was devastated when the steamship General Slocum caught fire and sank in the East River, killing more than 1,000, most of them German-Americans on a church outing.
Yorkville became a kind of refuge from the haunted habitats of Little Germany and helped to make New York the third-largest German-speaking city in the world, after Berlin and Vienna, at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1910, there were 379,242 German immigrants living in New York City, according to U.S. Census statistics. In 2000, only 27,708 residents of the city were German-born.
It was also home to Irish, Czechs, Poles and Hungarians. In the 1930s, Yorkville also was the home base of a notorious pro-Nazi group, the German American Bund, and there were occasional bloody clashes in the streets around St. Joseph’s, more than once with Jewish veterans of World War I.
Now, scattered throughout the neighborhood, there are only a few stalwart reminders of Yorkville’s German past: the Heidelberg Restaurant, Schaller & Weber grocery store, Glaser’s Bake Shop — and, of course, the German-language Mass that takes place at St. Joseph’s at
9:45 a.m. on the first Sunday of every month.
St. Joseph’s pastor, Monsignor John Sullivan, an Irish-American, speaks enough German to say the Mass. Another parish priest is fluent, and occasionally a visiting priest presides.
Benedict will lead an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph’s for national and local Christian leaders. St. Joseph’s was allocated just 10 tickets for the event, which were distributed to parishioners through a lottery.
Winter, who said she is thrilled that the pope is coming, gave away the one ticket set aside for the unofficial church matriarch. And last Sunday morning, she couldn’t help complaining, be it ever so politely, as she read announcements before the end of Mass.
“The pope’s visit is a great honor,” she said, “even though not many parishioners will be here, and they took the carpeting out of the vestibule for some reason … . I invite you over to the school for coffee and cake and conversation, in any language you like.”
After the Mass, in a large meeting room at the school, a half-dozen round tables were decorated with paper tablecloths. One of them held Danish pastry, doughnuts and coffee, and at the others, clouds of white hair seemed to hover around the edges. Nearly everyone was over 70 and was speaking German, but they switched fluidly, and often without a trace of an accent, to English.
Most German parishioners of St. Joseph’s knew all about Benedict before he was pope, beginning when he was an academic scholar, then archbishop of Munich, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. All of them praise the church’s first German pope in a thousand years.
“I really admire him. He radiates kindness,” said Rosemarie Fisher, who has attended St. Joseph’s since the time she lived in Yorkville some 40 years ago. “My mother in Germany listened to Father Ratzinger years and years ago, and when I visited her, she would tell me about him, because she would listen to him on the radio. I wish I could talk to her now, she would be so excited.”
(Amy Ellis Nutt is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.
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