Diocesan News

Bishop Brennan Opens 200th Anniversary Year With Mass In The ‘Hub Of Our Diocese’

St. James was designated a cathedral when the Diocese of Brooklyn was established in 1853. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Jan. 1 marked not only the beginning of the New Year, it signaled the start of a year-long celebration of a major milestone in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of St. James Church (which eventually became a cathedral) as Bishop Robert Brennan celebrated Mass there on New Year’s Day. 

Other events slated to take place during the anniversary year include a concert series and a Mass in July celebrating the feast day of St. James.

Bishop Brennan noted that St. James Church was established in 1822 as the first church on Long Island when a group of Catholics petitioned the Archdiocese of New York to build the church in Brooklyn.

“It was a big moment for them. Who knew what a big moment it would turn out to be for all of us generations later?” Bishop Brennan told The Tablet prior to the Mass. 

“St. James Cathedral has served as a real hub of our diocese for many, many years,” he added.

St. James, which was designated a cathedral when the Diocese of Brooklyn was established in 1853, has seen plenty of history over the centuries.

The original church, which was severely damaged by a series of fires in 1883 and 1889, was replaced with the existing cathedral in 1903. 

The Cathedral Basilica of St. James also houses many historic treasures of the diocese.

One artifact, the mitre worn by Bishop Charles McDonnell, Brooklyn’s second bishop (1892-1921), is on display in a glass case in the back of the cathedral.

The chair of Bishop John Loughlin, the first Bishop of Brooklyn (1853-1891) is in the sacristy behind the altar.

Generations of priests and deacons were ordained there and major events — like the annual Chrism Mass — took place inside its walls until the need for a larger venue led to the designation of St. Joseph’s Church in Prospect Heights as a co-cathedral in 2013. 

Father Bryan Patterson, the current pastor at St. James, said he hopes the anniversary year will help return the cathedral to its rightful place as a major institution in the minds of Brooklyn Catholics.

Catholics should feel proud of the cathedral’s history, he said, adding, “We live in a city that is constantly renewing and reinventing itself. And here we have a cathedral that has stood the test of time.”

The cathedral has played a vital role for priests who served there. Msgr. John Strynkowski, who was the rector from 2005 to 2015, said the Mass was emotional for him.

“It’s a very touching day, considering the 200 years that this parish has been in existence, the history of it, and the effect that it’s had on the diocese,” he said.

The cathedral is important to the history of the diocese. But it is also a part of history in the lives of many who regularly attend Mass there.

Isabel Navarro has been coming to Mass at St. James for more than 30 years. Her daughter received first Holy Communion there and her grandson was baptized there.

“Today’s a wonderful day. I feel so proud of my beautiful church,” she said, adding that she loves the warm, welcoming atmosphere fostered by churchgoers. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone met for a coffee hour after Mass on Sundays.

Althea Forde-Jobe, who travels from East New York to attend Mass at St. James, said she feels the weight of history every time she enters the building.

“This is the mother church. There’s no mistaking that,” she said.

While the Cathedral Basilica of St. James has a glorious past, it also has a bright future, Bishop Brennan said.

“It’s the center of prayer, a center of pilgrimage, and hopefully during this jubilee year, we will recapture that idea of pilgrimage, that people from our diocese and from other places may come here as a site of prayer, as a place to encounter the Lord,” he added.


One thought on “Bishop Brennan Opens 200th Anniversary Year With Mass In The ‘Hub Of Our Diocese’

  1. I was able to watch this wonderful occasion on tv. From seeing the school band from Bishop’s alma maters, the beautiful procession of priests, many who I knew, the traditional door knock, the mass, the singing, it felt like I was there back in Brooklyn❤️🙏