By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Two Heights Roman Catholic Churches Are Forming Cooperative Effort
As part of a trend both on the national and local diocesan levels to address the shortage of priests and resources, two Roman Catholic parishes with rich histories in Brooklyn Heights are forming a cooperative effort.
St. Charles Borromeo Church (founded in 1849) and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, (founded in 1842), are in the process of forming a collaborative effort with the goal of uniting and strengthening the two faith communities and to deal with the re-allocation of priests around the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Both church buildings will remain in use.
Rev. Edward Doran, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church since 2008, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday, Feb. 5 that people are naturally attached to the churches where their families and lives have created history. But he believes there is a time for widening the circle of fellowship. “My hope is, I’ve been trying very hard to acquaint people with St. Charles Borromeo, and I’d like to try the same approach with Assumption Church,” Rev. Doran said. “I am trying to bring both communities to work with myself as the pastor to evangelize. I’m told we’re looking for a positive outreach, opening ourselves, creating awareness of the spiritual traditions that both parishes have to offer. This community is blessed with loads of new families coming in. Our challenge—our opportunity is to acquaint them with our vibrant faith communities.”
Fr. Doran made the announcement to his parishioners on Sunday, Feb. 2. The Rev. James King, who has pastored Assumption Church for five years, made a similar statement to his congregation during the Sunday Masses last weekend.
Fr. Doran pointed out that “the Bishop is committed to keeping both churches open. Mass will continue to be offered in each location as will ministries and outreach programs.”
Fr. Doran emphasized that “the Bishop is taking this action as a way to strengthen and unite the two faith communities of Brooklyn Heights and to take them into the future. Both communities are strong and have dedicated, supportive and faith-filled parishioners. This action is not being taken as a punitive step or as a way to shore up a ‘failing parish’ as each parish is stable. Each parish has strengths that can be of benefit to the other, and the unification of Assumption and St. Charles will lead to a stronger Catholic presence in the surrounding community and assist us in our mutual efforts of Evangelization.”
Fr. Doran said, “this action is being taken now because of the impending changes in clergy assignments and the need to plan for administering parishes as the number of active priests declines with the retirement of the baby boom generation.”
Likewise, Father James King, Assumption Church’s pastor, read a statement to his parish. He told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that his parish “was in consultation with the Diocese, and are working together in collaboration to strengthen both parishes. The sacramental life [celebration of the Eucharist, for example] will continue.”
Fr. Doran said, “in the end, the goal of is to create a stronger faith community both for today and for the future. By uniting with our brothers and sisters in faith from Assumption, we can become a stronger and more vibrant Catholic presence in our neighborhood and continue to grow in faith. While change is not easy, we all must remain committed to this goal.”
Fr. Doran said that St. Charles Borromeo Church and Assumption Church have both been active in the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association for many years, and have in the past participated in the Ecumenical Lenten series.
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Milestone in Faith
St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church
The parish, now in its 165th year, was founded in 1849, with Father Charles Pise as the first pastor. He served until 1866. His successor, Father Francis Freel, served was the pastor from 1866-1884. Other notable pastors included Monsignor Ambrose Aitken (1941-59 dates of service), after whom Aitken Place is named. (Aitken Place is the westernmost extension of Livingston St., stretching from Sidney Place, where the church stands on the northeast corner, to Clinton St.)
Monsignor Charles E. Diviney, Msgr. Aitken’s successor, was pastor from 1959-78. An avid reader, Msgr. Diviney often incorporated works of literature and contemporary writings into his sermons. Well after his official retirement until his death, he continued to write book reviews regularly for the diocesan newspaper, The Tablet.
The church building of St. Charles Borromeo was designed in 1868 by renowned Irish-American architect Patrick Charles Keely.
St. Charles Borromeo Church, designed in 1868 and dedicated in 1869, is an example of fine work by renowned Catholic architect Patrick Keely. According to the parish website, “the church is a brick structure in the Neo-Gothic or Gothic-revival style with a brick tower and metal steeple in the center of the front facade. The flat side elevation reflects the interior space with seven tall and slender stained glass, It is believed to be 325th church in a prolific career in Catholic architecture.”
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Milestone in Faith
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church
In 1842, 11 years before the Roman Catholic Brooklyn was established, Brooklyn and Long Island were still part of the New York Diocese, and Long Island were part of the New York diocese. At the time, Brooklyn Heights had five Protestant churches. The Catholic parish of St. James (later to become the new diocesan cathedral) was 20 years old. On June 10, 1842, Bishop Hughes dedicated Brooklyn Heights’ first Roman Catholic Church – the third in all of Brooklyn – to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of “Assumption”.
Plans to enlarge the original church were belayed when a fire which erupted in a nearby lead factory destroyed the church’s roof. The building itself survived for a while, and was even extended. And then, eminent domain prevailed.
During the first decade of the 20th century, the parish buildings were taken over so that the Manhattan Bridge could be built. Assumption parish received $125,000 for the church property. Part of this money was used to purchase four lots on Cranberry Street and four lots on Middagh Street. Ground was broken in August 1908, and on Dec. 20, 1908, Bishop McDonnell laid the cornerstone of the new church. The church exterior is in Italian-Renaissance style, and its interior with its round columns and curved dome ceiling is Romanesque. It was dedicated on Aug. 15, 1909, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church building thus marks its 105th birthday later this year.
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Windsor Terrace Church Obtains, Renovates Famed Renwick Altar
By Amanda Decker
Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
On St. Patrick's Day 1878, a new Catholic parish was created to fill the growing spiritual needs of a young and rapidly expanding Brooklyn community. Then Brooklyn Bishop John Loughlin recognized that soon more and more souls would be calling this enclave between the Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park their home and would be in need of a place of worship. The neighborhood was Windsor Terrace and the newly formed fledgling parish was Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church.
In humble beginnings reminiscent of the manger of Bethlehem Holy Name’s first official mass was held in a stable not far from where the current church now stands. Holy Name’s transition to a brick and mortar home soon followed under the eye of its first appointed priest, a young Irishman by the name of Thomas S. O'Reilly.
When ground was broken for Holy Name Church on the corner of Prospect Avenue and 9th Avenue, the congregation itself it already had a considerable following. Brooklyn was quickly expanding and the new parishioners were largely working class Irish, German, Polish, and Italian- Americans looking for an inviting city neighborhood in which to settle down. From the beginning, Holy Name Church played an integral part in the forming of the community of Windsor Terrace- anchoring the neighborhood and providing a place of meeting and shared inspiration to its newly settling members. The parish helped families to create a strong, connected and comforting community in the heart of the major metropolis of New York City. This legacy would prove to endure through the ages.
Since its inception, Holy Name Church has undergone several physical makeovers. The original outlying structure built of Philadelphia brick has remained mostly untouched and intact. Several interior renovations were completed over the years, the most infamous of which was the 1980 renovation that left many parishioners less than pleased.
At around the same time that Holy Name parish was established, a gifted young architect by the name of James Renwick Jr. was making his mark on America's burgeoning architectural scene. Designing such notable structures as; Manhattan's beautifully ornate Grace Church, Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Institute, and his most famous work, St. Patrick's Cathedral. Renwick Jr. made a name for himself in the architectural world that would reverberate through the ages. Renwick’s works implied a strength of vision and undeniable presence that would echo in the halls of his masterpieces, inspiring and elating all who entered their doors.
Though carefully planned and sharply executed it turned out that one of Renwick's grand designs did not fit into the unfolding layout of St. Patrick's. Due to its large size one of the side altars Renwick designed had to be left out. Too beautiful by far to be abandoned the altar was instead given to Brooklyn's St. Vincent de Paul church located in Williamsburg.
When St. Vincent de Paul Church closed its doors, the altar was move to storage where it remained until—the new renovations of Holy Name Church began in 2012. It was at this point that Renwick's altar was given to Holy Name Church to serve as a grand focal point for its new renovations. Renwick's ornate marble altar is a considerable change from Holy Name's previous markedly plain liturgical space.
As more and more churches in the northeast are closing, it has become common practice for new or renovating churches to purchase remnants of these old buildings—sometimes even the entire building itself. Holy Name was fortunate to obtain the Renwick altar for only the price of its storage and transport.
Coincidentally, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the originally intended home of Renwick's altar, opened its doors for the first time (in 1879) just a few months after Holy Name Church held its first Mass on Christmas Day. Again, like Holy Name Church St. Patrick's also began an extensive restoration in 2012. Furthermore, as happenstance would have it, James Renwick Jr. was buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery just a few blocks from Holy Name Church.
Holy Name Church's renovations also include two side altars from St. Vincent de Paul, as well as the installation of marble flooring and adorning woodwork. The renovations are slated to be completed by this Easter, which falls on April 20.
The Holy Name renovation process was a product of an ambitious fundraising campaign begun by Father James Cunningham. Father Jim, as he is known, began the project in response to the complaints and urgings of his parishioners to “fix” the church after its last infamous 1980 face-lift when it was painted pink and left unadorned. Father Jim, who has been named this year’s Grand Marshal of Brooklyn's Irish-American Day Parade, felt a monumental renovation of the church would offer a more inspirational church going experience for parishioners. As Father Jim puts it, “the center of our life as a Catholic parish is the Church and we need a worship space conducive to prayer that people like coming to.”
When the fundraising project began it was estimated that Holy Name Church would be able to raise approximately $1.2 million. To date the church surpassed—indeed, doubled that goal—raising $2.4 million.
What accounts for this overflow of donations? Sitting with Father Jim in the church rectory he explains, “In all my years of pastoring, all the places I have been, I have never encountered a place like Holy Name Parish.” He pauses for a moment and looks reflectively out the rectory window at the peaceful tree lined street that adorns Holy Name. “There is a loyalty and connection here that is unique. I know what I have here. And I hope to stay here forever.”
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Forum Will Address Increased Violence Against Gay Persons
First Unitarian Church hosts a forum on ending violence against gay people.
Taking place on Saturday, Feb. 15, the event is titled “Battered Pride in Brooklyn: A Public Anti-Violence Forum for the LGBTQ Community and their Allies.” It will be held at the First Unitarian Chapel (at street level), to the immediate right of the main sanctuary.)
Now that same-sex marriage has become legal in 18 States, more than one third of all Americans have a level of gay rights that seemed impossible 25 years ago. And yet with all this progress, violence against the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer) community are dramatically up to an all-time high, especially in places like Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Brooklyn –places that one would think would be the most progressive. Organizers say that this “dirty secret” must now be talked about so we can take action.
The First Unitarian's Weaving the Fabric of Diversity Committee is hosting this public forum to provide a safe space for people who have experienced or fear anti- LGBTQ violence. Anti-Violence advocates and professional and in this field will speak and offer suggestions for what Allies of this community can do to help both on a personal level and on a community level.
Speakers include, as of press time, Robert Lopez, program associate in community organizing and public advocacy for the New York City Anti-Violence Project;
Melissa Sklarz, President of Stonewall Democrats of New York City, the largest LGBT Democratic club in New York. The forum runs from 2-5 p.m.