St. Columba Church is celebrating 50 years of serving the people of God in Marine Park, and parishioners commemorated the anniversary with a Mass and reception June 24.
“Happy anniversary,” Father Timothy J. Lambert, pastor, said to his parish family.
“Fifty years – that’s a big deal. It’s a long time,” he said. “How God has blessed you and your families. How God has blessed this holy place.“
Father Lambert was the main celebrant and homilist at the jubilee Mass, and Father Charles J. Matonti, pastor emeritus, concelebrated. Deacons Lawrence E. Coyle, and Fred Ritchie assisted on the altar.
Filling the pews were friends, neighbors and parishioners, including more than a dozen founding members, now in their 70s, 80s and 90s – pioneers who helped build the church from nothing, and have proudly watched it grow over the last five decades.
It all began on the seventh day of June in 1967. Brooklyn’s Archbishop Bryan J. McEntegart assigned then-Father Edward W. Jolley to establish a new parish in southern Brooklyn on the edge of the marshes of Marine Park.
The new parish was to be carved from four area churches: St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands; Mary Queen of Heaven, Mill Basin; Good Shepherd, Marine Park; and Resurrection, Gerritsen Beach.
Back then, Marine Park was a working- and middle-class neighborhood, home to many city workers, including firefighters and police officers, and residents were largely German-, Irish- and Italian-American.
In his first act as pastor, Father Jolley placed the new parish under the patronage of St. Columba, an Irish abbot and missionary who spread Christianity in Scotland. The life of the parish patron is symbolically told in the stained-glass windows on the Coleman Street side of the church.
Embracing the missionary spirit of the parish patron, Father Jolley and Father Robert W. Currie, his curate, introduced themselves to the community by ringing doorbells and spreading the word that a new parish was forming.
Two months later, a house on Kimball Street was purchased as a rectory and site for weekday Masses. On Sundays, Masses were held at the Dorian, a local nightclub, where the aroma of roast beef and beer lingered from the previous evening.
A fundraising campaign was soon underway, and campaign workers collected over $300,000. Undeveloped land was then purchased between Kimball and Coleman streets, south of Avenue U and extending to Avenue V.
Brooklyn’s fifth Bishop Francis J. Mugavero officiated at the groundbreaking in April of 1969, and later that year, on Thanksgiving Day, the first Mass in the still-unfinished building was celebrated.
The plan was for a multipurpose building with a 120-seat chapel and a rectory. Weekend Masses would be celebrated in the auditorium, which would also serve as a gym, bingo hall, meeting place and religious education center.
As the physical structure took shape, so too did an interim parish council, a religious education program and various parish groups, including the Ladies Guild, Youth Council and Men’s Choir.
On May 30, 1971, Bishop Mugavero officially dedicated the parish building.
The rise of residential and commercial developments, including Kings Plaza Shopping Center and Marina, and greater means of public transportation, brought more families and foot traffic to the area in the years that followed.
Seeing the need for a bigger worship space, fundraisers were held and the chapel was expanded into the present 500-seat, modern-style church, which was dedicated by Bishop Mugavero in 1987.
“Nobody’s rich here, but we did it,” said parishioner Paul DePaolo, who was there when the shovel first went in the ground. “We did it out of love. A lot of love.”
While the original altar, baptismal font, tabernacle and statue of the risen Christ remained the same after the expansion, parishioners saw them in a new light – literally, as a large skylight was built into the sanctuary. Glass panels form the church steeple, topped by a four-and-a-half foot Celtic cross, a nod to the parish patron’s Irish roots.
Special guests who returned for the jubilee celebration last month included Sisters Emily Masse, O.P., and Christine Sammons, O.P., who were pastoral associates and music ministers in the 1990s.
“It was a happy place for me and it’s a significant anniversary,” said Sister Emily. “For one fifth of it, I was here to help build the faith community so I wanted to come back and rejoice in that.”
A woman who grew up in the parish, and is now raising her children there, recalled how much it meant when Sister Emily and Father Kiernan came to her Catholic high school the day she was installed as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
Everyone had memories to share of the parish that has been “a second home” to many, like DePaolo. He smiled as he recalled the day he married his wife in the old chapel, and shared how his “parish family came to my aid” after an auto accident.
“More than just a parish, it’s always been a family,” he said.
A beloved member of that family is Patricia Pennea, a founding parishioner, who served on the first permanent parish council. Now, at age 95, she’s the head usher and helps lead the liturgy committee and consolation ministry.
“I’m glad I’m still here to see it (the golden jubilee),” she said. “It’s really a very joyous occasion.”
Looking at pictures at the reception brought back memories of the excitement felt in the early years when everyone pitched in to bring this new parish to fruition.
But her best memories, she said, are of the “loving and caring” priests and people she’s known through the years.
“My husband and I were here when they put the first stone in the dirt so the parish has a lot of good memories for me,” shared parishioner Phyllis Gilligan.“It’s another home for me.”
Today, the parish continues to be comprised of working- and middle-class families of German, Irish and Italian descent, with pockets of Caribbean and African-American families, reflective of the surrounding community, increasingly participating in Masses and activities.
Active Parish Life
Mass is the focal point of parish life, but the parish also boasts 10 liturgical ministries, eight social/service organizations, and seven catechetical ministries, which involve hundreds of parishioners, ranging from toddlers to nonagenarians.
St. Columba also sponsors four annual blood drives and supports a sister parish in Africa.
As Father Lambert has observed since arriving in September, 2015, for the people of St. Columba, parish life is an extension of their home lives.
“This is not just an hour of their time on a weekend,” he said. “It’s also something that they live. And when they live it, it filters back to us in their generosity of spirit, in their time, in their willingness to be of service to the church and one another.
“It’s a family parish,” he added.
An anniversary committee has organized events to observe the anniversary throughout 2017. Highlights, thus far, have included a Lenten Mission and an ice cream social. This fall, the parish will hold its inaugural golf outing and family fun day.
Looking to the future, John Hayes, pastoral planning council president, would like to see the next generation continue the good works begun over the last five decades.
“I hope that the assets of this church, especially its faith, charity and all of its good works, continue just the way they have been,” he said.
The Pastors of St. Columba Church
Msgr. Edward W. Jolley, 1967-88
Father Edward J. Kiernan, 1988-2002
Father Charles J. Matonti, 2002-09
Father Francis J. Hughes, 2009-2015
Father Timothy J. Lambert, 2015-present