By Francesca Norsen Tate
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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