Put Out into the Deep

Ite Ad Joseph – Go to Joseph!

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Text of the Bishop’s homily at the dedication of St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, May 13:

In 1989, Ken Follett wrote a book entitled “The Pillars of the Earth,” which dramatized in a fictional way the construction of a cathedral in England during the 12th Century. Of course, the plot was rather complicated. However, the description of the building of the cathedral itself was fascinating. Clearly, the architects of that time did not have a clear understanding of how the arches of a cathedral could withstand the pressure of the walls. In fact, part of the novel depicted the collapse of a half-built cathedral, of course collapsing on those who were against its construction.

In my own life, perhaps I have been fascinated by cathedrals as I grew up across the street from Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark, one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture in the United States. Its history also is fascinating as its construction began in 1898 and stopped during World War I and remained a shell until 1950 when the then-Archbishop, Thomas Boland, ran a campaign to finish the cathedral. I was 11 years old at that time and watched the four-year construction of the interior and exterior of that monumental structure.

Today, we come to this new Co-Cathedral for the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. When I first saw this Church of St. Joseph in such disrepair, I was saddened by the unfortunate condition of this beautiful structure. However, today, I must call attention to Father Robert Vitaglione whose shepherding of this church for 22 years allowed it to survive, even in poor condition. Because of his attention to its people, many of whom are here this evening, the remnant of the House of Joseph, this monumental structure stands today. I take this time to thank you, Father Vitag, for your shepherding of the flock and allowing this structure to come to this day of renewal.

During one of my first visits to St. Joseph’s, an elderly Hispanic man came to me and said, “Bishop, please do not let this church fall down!” The fact is, the window of the Sacred Heart under the mural of Christ in glory literally had been blown out by heavy wind. In fact, all of the windows were in danger of collapse because of the rotting wooden frames. That man made an impression upon me. And so from that day we looked to the situation of the church and we had to come to a decision. Would we tear down this magnificent structure, which might cost up to two million dollars? Or would we loan the parish the five million dollars which it would cost to reconstruct the roof, point the outside, and replace the towers which had been taken down many years prior? This was the first stage of the reconstruction, which began six years ago. Today, under the watchful eye of Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Rector, we find ourselves in this most beautiful, awe-inspiriting structure. I have absolutely no fear that the Co-Cathedral will collapse on us tonight, but I am afraid that some have misunderstood my intention and the work here at St. Joseph’s.

First, perhaps I must explain the title of this church, which actually was built just 100 years ago, although the parish was founded and dedicated to St. Joseph in 1851. The pastor who built this church was Msgr. William T. McGuirl. His much younger cousin, Msgr. John McGuirl joins us in the sanctuary this evening.

It has been stated that during World War II, almost 30,000 people attended Mass celebrated each weekend in both the upper and lower church. Yes, those were the days when the Catholic faithful attended Mass, and the war made it even more imperative for the faithful to pray for the safe return of their sons. Many of those who did not return were, indeed, members of this parish.

Above the baldaccino we see the words “Ite Ad Joseph” “Go to Joseph.” “Go to Joseph, whatever he says to you, do.” They are the words of the Pharaoh to the people when they cried to him for assistance in the time of great famine. Yes, Joseph was the one who was sold into slavery and became the right hand of the Pharaoh and who would also welcome the brothers who had sold him into slavery and his father who came from Israel to save them from the famine. Yet, Joseph, to whom this Co-Cathedral is dedicated, is the Joseph who protected the Holy Family, who brought them safely from Bethlehem to Egypt to find safety, when they too were threatened. It is the Joseph who is the Patron of the Universal Church to whom this edifice is dedicated.

St. John Paul II, in his 1989 Apostolic Exhortation, “On the Person and Mission of St. Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church,” commonly known as the “Guardian of the Redeemer,” tells us many things worth repeating today about the spouse of Mary and the Guardian of the Redeemer. He says, “Together with Mary, Joseph is the first guardian of this divine mystery. Together with Mary, and in relation to Mary, he shares in this final phase of God’s self-revelation in Christ and he does so from the very beginning.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who began his Petrine Ministry on March 19, 2013, the Feast of St. Joseph, also quotes St. John Paul II reminding us, with his special devotion to St. Joseph, that St. Joseph is the protector not only of Jesus and Mary but also of Christ’s mystical body, the Church.

Yes, the revelation of Christ to the world could not have taken place without Mary, and also without the intermediacy of Joseph who took her into his home, lest she be exposed to the harshness of the law. Joseph protected Mary and the Child Jesus. He taught Jesus the carpenter’s trade and allowed him to be known as Joseph’s son. Joseph, indeed, is the protector par excellence. And so, today, we come to re-dedicate this magnificent structure to Joseph as now the Co-Cathedral of Brooklyn and Queens, to seek his protection for our Diocese and to enable it also to reveal the mystery of Church to the world.

Many have asked, “Why this space? Why such an extravagance of funds? Why this location?” These questions must be answered. As I said at the beginning of this homily, we had a choice: tear the Church down or reconstruct the Church. Clearly, the location so close to the new Barclays Center, with available parking and public transportation also close by, makes this site an ideal one in the Diocese where we can gather more people than could be accommodated in our beautiful Cathedral-Basilica of St. James.

The cost, again perhaps through Joseph’s intercession, has become something that does not need to be the subject of further scrutiny. The ground lease and sale of some property on this site will eventually enable the parish to repay loans taken, as well as the initial investment provided by the Diocese. This truly is a parish project which enables us to have a new Co-Cathedral to be used annually for our Chrism Mass, Ordinations and the Rite of Election, as well as other major diocesan ceremonies.

As we look around the church today, we are all struck by beautiful decorations, which by the way were the least of the costs incurred. Rather, the infrastructure of St. Joseph’s is what took most of the funds: the heating, the air conditioning, the electricity which had not been updated since the church was first built, and so many other items we do not see which needed attention. As we can notice today, however, the decorations have a common theme. In Joseph’s house, the spouse of Mary, there is always room for Mary. Today, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, whose image decorates the back wall of the Co-Cathedral. We also look to the roundelettes along the ceilings of the side aisles, and in other areas where the various titles of Our Lady venerated by the immigrants of the Diocese have been placed in all of their glory. Presently, there are 22 images of the Blessed Mother, representative of the various language apostolates of Brooklyn and Queens. There are other churches with a similar theme; namely, the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and also our own Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It is the intention that all will feel welcome here at St. Joseph’s, all will find Our Lady to greet them under the title most familiar to those who worship here.

We come today to consecrate this church and rededicate it, since it has undergone a major renovation. The altar is new and will be consecrated with the Chrism blessed in April at the Chrism Mass. The altar will have a relic of St. André Bessette, Apostle of the Basilica of Sacred Heart in Montreal, Canada who was recently canonized. This guardian of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart will also be the guardian of this Co-Cathedral, where the window of the Sacred Heart dominates the sanctuary. Tonight, my Auxiliary Bishops of Brooklyn, Father James Massa, Moderator of the Curia and Vicar for Evangelization, and Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Rector, all will anoint the walls of the Co-Cathedral, and I will bless the tabernacle before we will reserve the Blessed Sacrament at the end of our liturgy today. The pulpit will also be blessed, reminiscent of the first reading today where we heard from the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah (8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10) where a wooden platform was constructed so that the book of the law could properly be proclaimed. And here at St. Joseph’s the Word of God will be proclaimed from this newly renovated pulpit.

In our readings today, we heard that Christ is the capstone. It is He who holds the edifice of the Church, not made with stones, but rather, as the Epistle of Peter tells us, with living stones. In the Gospel today, we hear that the rock on which the Church is established is Peter, Cephas who becomes the new rock. And, so we all are called to become the living stones that make the edifice of the Church truly the Body of Christ.

Today, as we come to this celebration, we must take the time to thank those individuals who have made this renovation possible. Previously, I mentioned Father Robert Vitaglione, who preserved this church during difficult times. Msgr. Kieran Harrington, the rector, who for the past six years as pastor has devoted countless hours and much energy to making sure that we have this beautiful church. Together with Father Jorge Ortiz and the parish staff, not only do we find this magnificent edifice, but we also find living stones, a vibrant and diverse faith community.

We must also thank the donors who made this renovation possible: Mr. Michael Romersa; the O’Toole Foundation; Mr. Joseph Palumbo, who was an altar boy here in the parish of St. Joseph and who made a donation so that we could reconstruct the Sacred Heart window that was completely destroyed; Mr. and Mrs. Greg and Carol Karas, Carol’s father, Charles Postler, was the first deacon ordained for the Diocese of Brooklyn. The Buonacontri family and the Cinalli families were extraordinarily generous to the parish that served them so well for so long. Petrona James and Johanna Fernandez, long-time parishioners of this parish, also made extremely generous sacrificial gifts.

We come to celebrate this Eucharist today, the greatest prayer of thanksgiving which we offer. And when we give thanks, we will remember those who have contributed in so many ways to the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph; the ethnic apostolates whose national Marian image appears in this beautiful church; the Mexican parishioners of St. Joseph’s, under the direction of Father Ortiz, gave their sweat equity donation by restoring the main doors into the Co-Cathedral and by removing all of the pews of the church to the lower church and strip them of the old varnish, allowing the pews to be refinished at a reduced cost.

I am especially grateful to Jeff Greene, Emily Toland and all the men and women of Evergreen Arts for their work in bringing forth the grandeur of this Co-Cathedral. The electricians who were in this church all day and night since last August without ever taking a day off, the waterproofers and laborers who endured harsh weather, from those who designed and installed lighting to those who put in our heating and air conditioning. Of course, there are so many others whose labors are known to God alone. Thank you!

To all of you who have made this and keep making this place of prayer, this House of God, this place devoted to Joseph and his spouse, a place of which we can be truly proud, a place which will be a central gathering place for our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. My prayer is that the Lord will find this a fitting temple to give Him worship, and that all find it a place to encounter our Lord. My hope is that this place be a symbol that the Church is not closing. Rather, the Church is growing and alive! Personally, I am indebted to all who have enabled this project to come to fruition. Most especially, we thank the Lord for guiding us during this time, to bring this house of prayer to completion.

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