The diocese’s first three bishops – John Loughlin, Charles E. McDonnell, and Thomas E. Molloy – returned home this past week. Their mortal remains were moved Aug. 3 from their resting places at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, L.I., to the bishops’ crypt in Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center, Douglaston.
When they were buried on Long Island, the site was part of the Diocese of Brooklyn. But in 1957, the Diocese of Rockville Centre was established and the counties of Nassau and Suffolk were carved out of the Brooklyn See and became a diocese of its own.
That meant that the first three bishops of Brooklyn were buried in another diocese. It has remained thus since.
Most of us don’t remember these men. But we all know their names because they were attached to high schools in the diocese.
In researching them, I found out a little bit about who they were and what they were like.
Bishop John Loughlin, who served as the first Bishop of Brooklyn, held that office longer than anyone else – 38 years, from 1853 to 1891. He was born in County Down, Ireland, and his father was a peasant farmer. When the family immigrated to the U.S., they settled near Albany. He was educated in Montreal, Emmitsburg, Md., and Baltimore, and was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of New York on Oct. 18, 1840 – one of three men ordained that day in Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan, by Bishop John Hughes.
His skills and smarts were immediately noticed. One year after ordination, he was assigned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and named its rector three years later.
He served as vicar general of New York and accompanied Bishop Hughes, as a theological adviser, to the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1849 and the First Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1852.
In 1853, at the age of 36, he was named the Bishop of Brooklyn when the See was erected. When he was ordained to the episcopacy on Oct. 30, 1853 at Old St. Patrick’s, he was one of three men raised to the rank of bishop that day – the others were the new bishops of Burlington and Newark.
When he came to Brooklyn, the diocese included all of Long Island. It consisted of 10 parishes in Brooklyn and one in Queens. Over the course of his episcopacy, Bishop Loughlin was responsible for establishing 42 parishes in Brooklyn, 10 in Queens, one in Nassau and two in Suffolk. He also oversaw the creation of one seminary and two colleges.
Msgr. John Sharp, author of “The History of the Diocese of Brooklyn,” tells us that “He remained aloof from the civic forum. Yet he built – mightily – churches, schools and institutions; he helped truly to provide employment and business for the general population and to Americanize his heterogeneous flock. He was a moderating, stabilizing influence and this won him deep respect.”
His manner in the pulpit has been described as unruffled, deliberate and direct. He had a deep, clear, resonating voice. The content of his sermons showed “a remarkable familiarity with Scripture” and its dogmatic structure concluded with practical moral reflections.
He lived at 250 Jay St., the residence of St. James Church, the first parish in Brooklyn, from 1853 to 1889.
It’s said that he was accessible to the public and could be found daily at the rectory. In appearance, Bishop Loughlin was of medium height and somewhat portly. He wore a flat-brimmed top hat and close-fitting, double-breasted clerical frock coat – both somewhat the worse for wear – low-cut shoes, uncommon then, and white socks. His head was large and was sometimes creased in a frown. He had strong features, a large nose and firm mouth and jaw. Under beetling brows his remarkable eye took one’s measure. He was described as a quiet, well-poised, masterful man.
He was one of the most prominent men in the old city of Brooklyn, but his modest, unostentatious life made him one of the least-known personalities.