BROOKLYN, N.Y. — New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan celebrated an Aug. 14 Mass marking the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first parish of the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn and also commemorating the bicentennial of the official Catholic presence on Long Island.
St. James Cathedral Basilica in downtown Brooklyn was the site of a historic afternoon liturgy concelebrated by Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Brooklyn, which encompasses the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, which is comprised of Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.
Their immediate predecessors, retired Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn and retired Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, were among many prelates and priests concelebrating, including Father Bryan Patterson, the current rector of St. James. Hundreds of the faithful filled the pews.
“We praise God, I would submit, mostly for the faith that has been planted, preached and nurtured here,” said Cardinal Dolan in his homily. The cardinal, as archbishop of New York, is metropolitan of the eight dioceses in the province of New York.
At the beginning, St. James Parish became the third Catholic parish in New York state, following two in lower Manhattan: St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, founded in 1786, and the first St. Patrick’s Cathedral of the then-Diocese of New York, established in 1809. That venerable edifice is now known as the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
Until then, Brooklyn’s nascent Catholic community had made an arduous Fulton Street Ferry journey across the East River to worship at Sunday Mass in Manhattan.
With faith simply and eloquently expressed in a letter to New York’s second bishop, John Connolly, layman Peter Turner made the case for a place in Brooklyn to pray, offer the sacraments, teach the faith and bury the dead, Cardinal Dolan explained.
Bishop Connolly himself traveled to Brooklyn to bless the cornerstone of St. James Church July 25, 1822, the feast of the parish patron. The Diocese of Brooklyn itself would not be established until 1853.
Bishop Brennan, in remarks at the beginning of Mass, noted that while much has changed over the course of 200 years, the “constant” at St. James is “the proclamation of the Gospel, the celebration of the Eucharist and the encounter with God’s mercy.”
“We have a lot to be thankful for. May God be praised today and always in this great place,” said Bishop Brennan, who was installed to head the Brooklyn Diocese Nov. 30, 2021.
The bishop noted the “special sense of belonging” the Diocese of Brooklyn feels alongside each of its neighboring downstate dioceses — the Archdiocese of New York, with which it serves the Catholic community of New York City, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre, with which it offers the church’s presence extending to Long Island’s eastern tip.
Through the years, the parish church of St. James has flourished. The current church building was dedicated in 1903. It was designated by then-Brooklyn Bishop Francis J. Mugavero as the cathedral of the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1972.
In 1979, St. John Paul II visited St. James Cathedral on the first of two visits to New York during his long pontificate and three years later officially designated the cathedral a basilica.
Woods is editor-in-chief of Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.