The earthly remains of Brooklyn’s first three bishops are back in the Brooklyn Diocese after resting in the neighboring Diocese of Rockville Centre for the past 59 years. The coffins of Bishops John Loughlin, Charles E. McDonnell and Archbishop Thomas E. Molloy were removed from the crypt at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, L.I., and brought to their new resting place at Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center, Douglaston, on Aug. 3.
For Bishops Loughlin and McDonnell, it was the third time they had been moved. Originally placed beneath the main altar at St. James Pro-Cathedral, Downtown Brooklyn, they were moved to the Long Island seminary in 1942 when it was still part of the Brooklyn Diocese. They were first placed in a temporary location – a vault beneath the main staircase – and one year later they were moved to the crypt area.
Msgr. John Sharp, in “The History of the Diocese of Brooklyn,” writes: “On Sept. 1, 1943, in the presence of some 200 priests making their annual retreat, Bishop Molloy celebrated a Pontifical Mass of Requiem and the remains were placed in a new crypt located beneath the basement sacristy of the seminary chapel.”
In 1957, Molloy, by then an archbishop, was laid to rest next to his predecessors. There they remained alongside the second Bishop of Rockville Centre, Bishop John R. McGann, a Brooklyn native, and the See’s third bishop, James T. McHugh.
On Nov. 3, following the annual Mass for deceased bishops and priests of the diocese, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio blessed the Douglaston site on the lower level of the building and behind the Bishops’ Chapel. It was a simple ceremony with prayer and the sprinkling of holy water but it was dramatic in its impact, bringing together for the first time all five of the deceased Bishops of Brooklyn. The trio joined the remains of Archbishop Bryan J. McEntegart, 1957-68, and Bishop Francis J. Mugavero, 1968-1990.
Achieving this feat was not easy. For the past two years, Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto patiently guided the process. Most of the waiting was because of legal papers that had to be filed and searches of any existing relatives.
Once the courts approved, Bishop Chappetto says that it proceeded smoothly. He credited the Catholic Cemeteries Offices of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre for their cooperation. He also was grateful to the staffs at Immaculate Conception Seminary and Immaculate Conception Center, as well as DeSales Media for publicity and logistical arrangements. He paid special thanks to the lawyers involved and to Morton’s Funeral Home in Ridgewood that volunteered their services in transporting the bodies.
The scene back in August when the three bishops arrived by hearses up the main driveway in Douglaston was historic. Each coffin was contained within a wooden outer box that displayed the coat of arms of the bishop and a nameplate. All were in remarkable condition, even Bishop Loughlin’s that dates back to his death in 1891.
On top of Archbishop Molloy’s box was a manila envelope containing a copy of The Tablet announcing the prelate’s death. After examining the paper, Bishop Chappetto made sure it was placed with him once again in Douglaston.
Hopefully, the Douglaston crypts will remain not just as an historical site but also as a place of pilgrimage. Our bishops were great men. They were significant churchmen. Our prayer is that they continue to guide us from the place of their Heavenly reward.