In order to honor the seven original religious communities who, for nearly 200 years, have served the people of Brooklyn and Queens, the diocese held a special Mass of thanksgiving at St. James Cathedral Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn.
“Today we gather… to say ‘Thank You’ to those very early pioneer communities who paved the way and planted the seeds of faith on our Brooklyn soil in the early 1800s and whose fruit still feeds our souls today,” said Sister Maryann Seton Lopiccolo, S.C., the episcopal delegate for religious in the diocese.
Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez shared with the congregation a realization he had during a time of prayerful retreat shortly before the announcement of his episcopacy became public.
“Though I could not prove it, in my heart I knew I was able to serve as a priest in the diocese because of religious men and women who prayed for me,” he said.
“Having this ceremony here at St. James Cathedral is also significant for it was home to most of those early communities, almost a ‘doorway’ into the diocese,” Sister Maryann said.
“Imagine with me those early chilly mornings in 1823 when the Sisters of Charity and Brothers of the Christian Schools came across from Manhattan by ferry to teach the growing groups of children and care for the orphans left by a church door.
“In due time, both communities took up residence here in the parish and taught in surrounding church basements, built orphanages, schools and assisted many in need. As they spread to other places, new groups came. In 1853, the Dominican Sisters sailed from Bavaria and stopped in Brooklyn waiting for their next transport to Pennsylvania, which never happened. So they were welcomed and invited to stay at Most Holy Trinity, Williamsburg.
“In 1855, the Sisters of Mercy opened an American Motherhouse next door with education and child care as their mission. Nearby, a house was secured for the Visitation Monastery to be established as a house of prayer for the mission of the diocese and to also educate young girls.
“By 1856 the Sisters of St. Joseph opened their first mission in Williamsburg and in 1858 the Franciscan Brothers arrived from Ireland to open a school for boys and care for orphans.
“By the time we were named a diocese in 1853, the impact and presence of the sisters and brothers and also religious order priests had changed the Catholic climate of the Village of Brooklyn.”
Sister Anne Mollica, C.S.J., came to the diocesan Mass to continue her celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life. Throughout the year she has gone to several diocesan events organized for those in consecrated life.
“It has given me a greater appreciation for my vocation and the work of the diocese,” she said. “I can see what others in the diocese are doing” and have come to better appreciate their work.
At the end of the Mass, representatives of each of the original seven congregations were asked to come before the altar and hold a lit candle as Bishop Sanchez blessed them.
Among those standing were Franciscan Brothers Joseph Bach and Jeremy Sztabnick. Brother Jeremy said he was thankful for the Year of Consecrated Life because it has brought a spotlight, with the help of the diocese and hard work of Sister Maryann, to local religious life. He said he hopes this will yield a greater response to religious vocations, both as religious sisters and religious brothers.
The Franciscans Brothers of Brooklyn have set up a website, www.franciscanbrothersosf.org to encourage men to discern a vocation as a religious friar. Brother Jeremy said people who are considering vocations often go to the Internet to find a congregation they feel called to join.