By Msgr. John Strynkowski
In the summers of 1959 and 1960, several seminarians and I assisted the priests of the parish of St. James Cathedral (not yet a Basilica) in taking a census of Catholics in the neighborhood.
In 2005, after I had completed my service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio appointed me as Rector of St. James Cathedral-Basilica.
I remain immensely grateful to Bishop DiMarzio for that assignment.
During my 10 years there, I experienced every possible aspect of the life of the Diocese of Brooklyn — celebrations of ethnic communities, ecclesial movements, organizations dedicated to charity or particular saints, and most importantly, ordinations to priesthood. All of these were manifestations of faith and love for God and neighbor.
But what amazed me most was the faith of the parishioners, some of whom had lived in the community for decades.
They had not only faith but also fidelity to their parish, and in this, they were worthy successors to the generations of parishioners who had preceded them.
The parish of St. James in what was then called the village of Brooklyn was established in 1822 at the request of Irish immigrants.
It is the third oldest parish in what is today the city of New York — the first being St. Peter’s on Barclay Street in Manhattan, established in 1785, and the second, Old St. Patrick’s on Mott Street, established in 1815.
One day during my time there, an elderly man called to tell me that he remembers his grandmother telling him when he was a child that when she was little, she was present at the celebration in which the church of St. James was raised to being the Cathedral of the newly-established Diocese of Brooklyn in 1853.
That is how it is in the Church — one generation handing down to the next their faith and they to the following generation and so on and on. That is how it has been with the parish of St. James for 200 years.
The Diocese of Brooklyn can take pride as we celebrate this anniversary. It is awesome to remember that the Eucharist has been celebrated in the parish of St. James continuously since 1822.
That is why it is fitting that the major celebration of this jubilee will take place on August 14 at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whose predecessor as bishop of New York, John Connolly, O.P., accepted the request of the Catholics in Brooklyn in 1822 and sent the first priest to serve there.
We ought to give thanks to God for the faith and commitment of bishops, priests, permanent deacons, women and men religious, and the laity who since then have enabled the parish of St. James to thrive in good times and to survive in difficult times.
New York City has never been an easy or comfortable place, always subject to broad swings demographically, economically, and socially.
The parishioners of St. James were not exempt from surrounding challenges, but they adapted with openness and persevered with courage.
All who visit St. James are struck by its stained-glass windows and architectural harmony.
Striking, too, is the musical harmony that is an integral part of the liturgical celebrations.
Plans are already being developed to use this anniversary year as the beginning of an effort to make St. James a destination for pilgrimages.
There is a history, a heritage, and a beauty to be shared by many.
I spent many years in Rome and visited many churches that are 400 years old — twice the age of St. James.
Can we hope that 200 years from now, seminarians will walk the streets of Downtown Brooklyn and hear the parishioners give thanks to God for this anniversary and the succeeding generations after us because they and we kept the faith alive and cherished according to God’s plan?
Msgr. John Strynkowski is rector emeritus of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James