CARROLL GARDENS — Michael Delgado and his wife, Illisse Familia Delgado, can walk 10 to 15 minutes to go to Mass at a church near where they live in Mount Vernon. Instead, the couple travels one hour and 15 minutes one way by Metro-North and subway to attend Sunday Mass at Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s in Carroll Gardens, the parish Michael grew up in.
Michael and Illisse, both 30, make the extra effort because they feel strongly connected to Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s. They aren’t the only ones. A number of parishioners, who once lived near the church, still come back to Mass there every Sunday, even after they have moved away. They come from Westchester County, Long Island, Staten Island and other parts of Brooklyn.
The reason many have moved: Carroll Gardens is too expensive. The average rent for an apartment in the neighborhood is close to $2,300 a month, according to New York University’s Furman Center, a research organization.
The Delgados are a prime example of being priced out of Carroll Gardens, even though both of them have full-time jobs. Michael is a concierge at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, and Illisse is a property administrator at the Chrysler Building in Manhattan.
After they got married in 2017, they looked all over Brooklyn for an affordable place to live but wound up in Mount Vernon, a town in Westchester County that’s about a half-hour train ride to Grand Central Station by Metro-North.
“It means everything to me,” Michael said. “At this point in my life, it’s like a second home. There’s a church 10-15 minutes away on foot here [in Mount Vernon] that we only go to for Christmas trees. It goes to show you that I am deeply rooted not only in the neighborhood, but my home, Sacred Hearts.”
John Heyer, pastoral associate at Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s, also grew up in the parish and in the neighborhood, but unlike the Delgados, he was able to buy a home in Carroll Gardens with his wife.
Heyer said parishioners returning is “a little bit of a phenomenon that this parish has been experiencing for years.” He said the close-knit culture is still holding in the parish, in part because so many people come back.
“It’s still a place where people find their neighbors, find their friends, and have those relationships,” Heyer said. “More than anything else, it’s relationship.”
Heyer and the Delgados are adult altar servers on Sundays, alongside Heyer’s eldest of three daughters who is 10. Up there with them is Jacqueline Troiano, 14, who travels from Staten Island every Sunday with her parents.
Heyer said his daughter loves seeing the Delgados from Mount Vernon, the Troianos from Staten Island and Zia Rosa Bellantuono from Staten Island, who has commuted to church for 30 years with her three sons and serves as a lector in English and Italian at the noon Mass on Sundays.
Bellantuono, 62, drives an hour for Mass. That has inspired her sons to do the same. Two live on Staten Island, and one lives in Bay Ridge. They all still come to Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s and serve as lectors, too. Almost all of Rosa’s grandchildren were baptized in the parish. She came to the parish when she was 8 years old, when her parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Italy.
Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s has its roots in the Italian community. Heyer said it was the first parish in the Brooklyn Diocese for Italian immigrants, like the Bellantuonos.
On Sept. 8, the parish celebrated the Blessed Mother’s birthday with a procession, which Bellantuono said is just like the procession her hometown, Mola di Bari, Italy, has every day.
“It gives me the chills. It feels good,” Bellantuono said.
That feeling is what brings people back. Illisse commends the pastor, Msgr. Guy Massie, and the parishioners for creating an environment where she “can’t wait to go and see everyone.”
“It’s not that you’re just going to church to praise God. It’s also to pray together as a family,” Illisse said. “That’s what makes everyone come together, and even though they moved far away, they still try to be a part of Sunday or Saturday Mass.”