An inscribed trowel, handwritten ledgers and golden monstrances, all circa 1900, were among the local treasures on display in Park Slope last weekend.
St. Francis Xavier parish opened the doors of its 125-year-old Victorian-style rectory to exhibit historical photographs, artifacts, documents and memorabilia as part of its quasquicentennial celebration. The five-room display began in the front room and extended through the pastor’s office, dining room, kitchen and a small sitting room.
The event was organized by six parishioners, Dr. Frank Greene, parish archivist; Haydee Von Sternberg; Carmine and Mary Mastrapoalo; Ann Marie Dougherty; and Claudia Gilchriest.
“We’ve been very fortunate. Pastors have done little in the way of changing the parish buildings,” said Dr. Greene, who guided visitors through the exhibit. An architectural historian and professor at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, he joined the parish in 1981.
The original church and rectory were both erected in 1886, he explained, noting that when parishioners outgrew the first church, it was picked up on blocks and wheels and moved around the corner. The present church was built on the site of the first and the original church became the parish Lyceum, a youth center.
Both longtime and newer parishioners learned lesser-known facts about the church, including its full name: St. Francis Xavier of the Indies, and tidbits about all six former pastors, each of whom had his own display. Father William Rueger, pastor since 2005, was pictured among the present parish staff, and toured the exhibit with his parishioners, enjoying their reactions.
“We want to be able to trace back our history of faith and belief from generation to generation,” Father Rueger said. “Events like this revive our faith.”
Black and white snapshots captured a December, 1963, memorial Mass for President John F. Kennedy; Msgr. David Hickey, the first pastor, with a First Communion class; Franciscan Brothers who served in the school with the Josephite Sisters; and class photos dating back to the 1940s.
Memorabilia ranged from anniversary journals to a Rosary Society banner and a black biretta worn by Father John J. Ansbro, the third pastor, 1966-80. His parents wed in the church and he was baptized there.
Newspaper clippings from The Tablet and Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on parish milestones, ranging from anniversaries and special programs, to historical events, including a 1912 memorial Mass offered for Titanic victims.
“It’s nice to see the progress through the years and see the people who have created all that we have, who have been so important through our history,” said Sister Helene Conway, C.S.J., pastoral associate.
Parish trustee Thomas Santisi pointed out an entry for a $350 stipend to the Sisters of St. Joseph for services rendered to the parish in 1910. Another entry that year shows a month’s gas bill at the rectory cost $4.16.
Parishioners marveled at several artifacts, including a silver trowel, engraved with the names of Bishop John Loughlin and Msgr. Hickey, which was used to cement the church cornerstone; a chalice and ciborium; a standing pyx; a reliquary holding a bone fragment of the parish patron; and two golden monstrances – one bejeweled with assorted precious stones, which are believed to have been donated by parishioners; and a second featuring enamel insets of the four evangelists.
Fourth-generation parishioner Mary McLoughlin spent much of her visit in the kitchen, paging through a 1916 parishioner contribution log. Her paternal roots in the parish date back to 1890.
“I just found my grandfather,” she gleefully announced, pointing to a listing of her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Peter P. McLoughlin. She wished she could spend the whole day looking up familial records, particularly from her mother’s family, who joined the parish in 1923. “Newcomers,” she said with a smirk.