the terra cotta everywhere so elaborately moulded as to show that the architect knew his material, and a sparing introduction of gold on fields of blue enamel. More recently, David W. Dunlap, in his guidebook to Manhattan’s houses of worship, said of St. Aloysius: If this church were in Italy – and it could be – it would be a compelling draw, its facade a scintillating quiltwork of decorative masonry. ... it is a little-known treasure, one of many in which Harlem abounds. Despite the fact that St. Aloysius is relatively unknown, it is one of New York City’s most distinctive Catholic church designs. 24 25
By the 1920s, the demographics of Harlem were greatly changing. The immigrant groups that had constituted the Catholic churches’ original congregations were leaving for other areas, while African- Americans were moving in substantial numbers into Harlem. Many of the new arrivals lived within the bounds of St. Aloysius and other parishes, but few African-Americans were Catholics. The first attempt by the archdiocese to address this situation had been in 1912, when Cardinal Farley requested that St. Mark the Evangelist Church, 65 West 138th Street, become the first Catholic church in Harlem to welcome black congregants. St. Mark thus became a community meeting place for black organizations. In 1931, Monsignor Thomas M. O’Keefe was assigned the pastorate at St. Charles Borromeo R.C. Church, 211 West 141st Street. O’Keefe had previously been pastor at St. Benedict the Moor R.C. Church, 342 West 53rd Street, since 1898 considered the first center of African-American Catholicism in New York City. Rev. William R. McCann succeeded O’Keefe as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo after the latter’s death in 1933. The archdiocese determined that one of the major purposes of the Harlem Apostolate, under McCann’s leadership, was to be the conversion of African-Americans to Catholicism. St. Aloysius’s membership by then was a mere 50 people, and the church was closed for much of 1935. Beginning that year, St. Aloysius was administered by Rev. McCann and became a mission church and the centerpiece of the conversion effort in Harlem. Whereas in 1940 there were only an estimated 7000 African-American Catholics in Manhattan, McCann was credited with some 8000 Harlem conversions by his death in 1949.27
In 1922, St. Aloysius had acquired the nearby site at 225-233 West 132nd Street, then built up with five rowhouses, for an anticipated parish school building. Construction, however, would not occur for almost two decades. The cornerstone of St. Aloysius School was finally laid in 1940, and the building was dedicated by Archbishop Francis Joseph Spellman in May 1941. The school has been continuously staffed by members of the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, an order of African-American nuns. By 1943, the congregation of St. Aloysius had grown to 1000. The parish ceased its mission status in 1947, becoming independent again. Rev. Walter L. McCann succeeded his brother as pastor, until 1960. The parish came under the administration of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1984.
A profile on the church in the New York Times in 1993 called it as “one of several black Catholic congregations trying to secure a future by embracing a form of worship more often found in the black Protestant churches,” and noted the inclusiveness of the congregation, its social concern, and the quality of its school.28 A proclamation of the Council of the City of New York on the church’s 100th anniversary in 1999 praised St. Aloysius as “a longstanding and extraordinary community and religious institution which has provided spiritual guidance, community leadership and quality education for several generations.”29 Among notable congregants of St. Aloysius have been Rev. Joseph E. Price, first African-American permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of New York; Monsignor Owen J. Scanlon, an assistant pastor and, later, pastor from 1969 to 1979; U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel, also an alumnus of St. Aloysius School; and composer and musician Daniel Coakley.
The highly decorative front facade of St. Aloysius R.C. Church is clad in bands of red brick, glazed “granitex” (having the color and texture of grey granite) terra cotta with inset cobalt blue glazed accents (manufactured by the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co.), and pale celadon glazed brick (manufactured by the Grueby Faience Co., the color now weathered), above a stone base. It is articulated with a monumental pedimented central section, flanked by pilasters, with a Gothic-arched entrance pavilion surmounted by a rose window, and side aisle sections having entrances, end pilasters, and terminating cornices following the slope of