EAST VILLAGE — As a caretaker at Immaculate Conception Church, John Mach understands that he is not only taking care of the church, but the parishioners as well. So when it comes down to him or his parish, he’s willing to face whatever may come at him, even if it threatens his life.
That devotion was put to the test on Sunday, Jan. 21. Mach, 54, was brutally slashed by a man with a box cutter outside the church, leaving him with 16 stitches along the left side of his jaw.
Remarkably, Mach, a Catholic who has been part of the church’s staff for the past six years, was back at work the day after the attack.
“I’ll fight for my church until the day I die, and my parishioners. That’s not going to change,” the caretaker defiantly told The Tablet.
The attack took place a little after 5 p.m., past Mach’s shift, following a day of altercations between the church staff and the assailant. Mach was sliced along his jawline to behind his left ear as he helped a wheelchair user enter the church.
In the frenzied moments after the attack, Mach tied his thermal wear around his neck to stop the bleeding and pursued the assailant for a couple of blocks before going to nearby Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital to receive treatment and stitches. He was released around midnight that Sunday and returned to work the following day.
Tensions that led up to the attack began hours earlier that day when the suspect was seen urinating between two cars parked outside Immaculate Conception.
Mach had stepped in to protect the sanctity of the church when it appeared the man was going to urinate on its walls, and eventually got physical with the man so he would leave.
Typically, Mach’s shift ends at 3 p.m., but he was concerned about the safety of the parishioners and decided to stay later in the afternoon. When he returned, the assailant was dressed differently.
Mach described him as appearing mentally unstable and said he threatened violence against two of his church colleagues. When the confrontation became more physical, Mach punched the man to force him to leave.
“That’s not normal in front of a church. I’m there to make sure that the people go and pray in peace. I’m not there to see somebody urinate in front of the church.” he said.
“If I have to get another one, I’ll get it. I don’t care,” Mach said of his injury. “It’s a church in the community, and I am not going to let them violate our rights.”
Photos released by the NYPD on Monday show the suspect, who remains at large, in the outfit he was wearing during the slashing. He is seen wearing a gray hat, black pants, and a red winter jacket.
Felony assault in New York City is up 14.9% since Jan. 2022, according to the NYPD statistics. Mach said he feels he has to fill the role of fighting for his parishioners, saying police presence in the densely visited area is lacking, adding: “It isn’t supposed to be like that. This wouldn’t have happened to me if there would have been officers where they were supposed to be.”
Sarah Ferguson, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1987, says that violent crimes such as this attack are a recent occurrence in the area. Two years ago, she considered sending her son to Immaculate Conception Catholic School, which has since closed, and she is often walking in the area of the church.
She doesn’t know why the block between First Avenue and Avenue A is now “off the hook” in terms of danger but concedes it has now become unrecognizable.
“It’s sad that the school is closed now and there’s a situation where [Mach] just doing what he’s done for years could be slashed like that. It’s a little alarming,” Ferguson said.