PROSPECT HEIGHTS — What could be more appropriate, from a Catholic perspective, than a television series about a close-knit, devout Irish Catholic family that says grace around the dinner table and attends church in their neighborhood?
Such a show would be the popular CBS series “Blue Bloods,” featuring the fictional Reagan family, who just happen to live in Brooklyn. Church scenes for the production have been filmed at St. Patrick’s Church at 95th Street and Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge.
The “Blue Bloods” cast includes series star Tom Selleck and actors Donnie Wahlberg and Bridget Moynahan, Catholics in real life. Adding an extra helping of reality to the fictional law enforcement family is the fact that the house they reside in is also located in Bay Ridge and has belonged to the Eparchy of Saint Maron since 1978.
Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation Parish in Williamsburg and chaplain for the Fire Department of the City of New York, recalled meeting members of the “Blue Bloods” cast — including Selleck, who plays Police Commissioner Frank Reagan.
“They are very professional, and the show is great because religion is so much a part of their Irish Catholic background,” explained Msgr. Gigantiello. “On the show, the commissioner is friendly with the archbishop, and it certainly mirrors real life.” Veteran actor Stacy Keach has a recurring role as archbishop Kevin Kearns and often helps guide Frank Reagan as his spiritual advisor.
Msgr. Gigantiello noted that “[Msgr. David] Cassato always was very friendly with [former NYPD Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly and all the police commissioners.” Msgr. Cassato serves as deputy chief chaplain of the NYPD and the Vicar for Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
In fact, “Blue Bloods” is just one of the shows that feature scenes inside and outside parish churches within the Diocese of Brooklyn. St. Patrick’s also served as a location in the 2019 Emmy-nominated miniseries “Fosse/Verdon,” starring Michelle Williams, and featuring Sam Rockwell as acclaimed choreographer and director Bob Fosse.
After more than a century, Catholic Churches are still being used as pivotal locations for movies and television, including many houses of worship within the Diocese of Brooklyn. In addition, these film productions in the churches offer them an added source of revenue that helps parishes support their financial needs.
The HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” which starred Brooklyn-born actor Steve Buscemi and aired from 2010 to 2014, filmed scenes at St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in Greenpoint. Buscemi, who grew up in Valley Stream and was raised Catholic, had the lead role of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, a gangster/politician who ruled Atlantic City from its inception in the 1920s.
In 1997, the Academy-Award-winning movie “As Good As It Gets” had exterior scenes filmed at Holy Name of Jesus Church at 245 Prospect Park West. The romantic comedy starred Jack Nicholson and featured Helen Hunt, who portrayed a single mother and waitress who worked in a Manhattan diner and lived on Prospect Park West.
More recently, the 2019 movie “The Irishman,” starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, filmed scenes at St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church in Ridgewood, as well as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg.
It is set during the 1950s when truck driver Frank Sheeran gets involved with Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hitman, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa — the powerful Teamster boss tied to organized crime. The movie was directed by Martin Scorsese and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Msgr. Gigantiello recalled meeting actor Al Pacino when they filmed at Mount Carmel. “They used our lunchroom for the prison scene in the movie. It was really exciting to meet Al Pacino, who is one of my favorite actors, so it was really memorable for me,” he added.
For the past 10 years, Craig Tubiolo, who hosts the faith-based talk show “Walk on Faith” for NET-TV and is also executive director of the Emmaus Center, has carefully reviewed scripts that were submitted by movie studios seeking to film in the diocese.
He noted that each request is carefully vetted, and he turns down more than he accepts. “I carefully review each request to make sure that it’s not offensive in any way and up to the standards of the Church. I help negotiate the terms for the usage,” Tubiolo explained. Among the productions he has been involved with signing are “Blue Bloods,” the CBS series “Bull,” and Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Tubiolo said he enjoys the interaction he has with the studios, the actors, and the executives. “A lot of them would have preconceived notions about the Catholic Church or organized religions in general, and so I would bring them into the church and show it to them. They would often say that they were raised Catholic, Christian, Baptist … but at some point had walked away from the Church,” he said.
“After meeting with them, they would often go home with a new perspective about faith and wonder why they had walked away from it in the first place,” he added. “It’s really a form of evangelization as well because for many of these film crews, who may have been baptized but are not practicing, coming into our churches reignites something in them.”
As a result, Tubiolo believes having 200 people in a film crew inside a church ultimately helps some of them reconnect with the Church and their Christian roots. “The ultimate hope would be that they have a conversion or a Holy Spirit moment, and that’s the part I love best about what I do,” he added.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” premiered in 2017 and has currently completed its fifth season. The show stars Rachel Brosnahan as the title character, a Jewish housewife turned comedian whose star rises throughout the ’50s and ’60s, and features Alex Borstein as her manager and Emmy-Award-winning actor Tony Shalhoub as her father Abe Weissman. Shalhoub is a Lebanese Maronite Catholic. The show has filmed scenes at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights.
“I think it’s nice for people to see the locations where these shows are filmed,” Msgr. Gigantiello said. “They get to see the outside or inside of their church as they are used in movies and television.”
“People have come up to me saying, ‘Oh, Monsignor, we saw you at the church on “Blue Bloods” last night,’ ” he added as he recalled an episode in which he appeared. He also said that in the last episode of this season, there is a mural of Mount Carmel in the background, and noted it is something to look forward to as “Blue Bloods” concludes its 13th season.
3 thoughts on “From ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ to ‘Blue Bloods,’ Diocese Churches Being Featured in Movies and Television”
What about East New York on Sundays on CBS. Jimmy Smit’s brother is a priest. Filmed multiple times at St. Martin of Tours in Bushwick.
Love Blue Bloods and love seeing the churches used in the show. I try to see if I can identify them!
I am trying to find out the title or episode the Monsignor Gigantiello appeared in on Blue Bloods in a church scene.
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