Diocesan News

Mass, Documentary Celebrate 200th Anniversary of Cathedral Basilica of St. James

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — It promises to be one of the most memorable celebrations in the Diocese of Brooklyn in years, and everyone is invited.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York will be the main celebrant at a Mass on Sunday, Aug. 14, to mark the 200th Anniversary of the establishment of St. James Parish in Downtown Brooklyn — which later became the Cathedral Basilica of St. James.

Bishop Robert Brennan and Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre will concelebrate the Mass, to take place at the cathedral, 250 Cathedral Place (located on Jay Street, one block north of Tillary Street), at 2 p.m. 

Bishop Brennan is inviting the public to attend.

The historical significance of the cathedral is sure to be a recurring theme of the Aug. 14 Mass. 

St. James was the first Catholic church built on Long Island. Before St. James was established in 1822, Catholics in Brooklyn and Long Island had to travel by ferry to Manhattan to attend church.

Bishop Robert Brennan, shown entering the cathedral for the Mass on the Feast of St. James on July 25, said in the new documentary that the anniversary provides a chance not only to reflect on the past but to plan for the future. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

The cornerstone for the original St. James was laid on July 25, 1822 — on the Feast of St. James. Two hundred years later to the day, on July 25, 2022, Bishop Brennan celebrated the feast day Mass there.

When St. James was established, a cemetery was also built on the grounds. The current cathedral, constructed at the site in 1903 after fires had damaged the original structure, was built on top of the cemetery.

St. James was designated a cathedral in 1853 when the Diocese of Brooklyn was created. The title basilica was added to its name in 1982 when St. Pope John Paul II issued the designation. Three years earlier, during his first visit to New York City, the Holy Father made an unscheduled stop at the cathedral. He stopped his motorcade in front of the cathedral and got out of his car to greet the crowds who had gathered there.

The Mass will provide a unique opportunity, said Father Alonzo Cox, director of liturgy for the diocese. 

“The greatest celebration that we have as Catholics is the Eucharist,” he told Currents News in an Aug. 3 interview. “So we will gather around the table of the Lord thanking God for the gift of 200 years, of being able to worship in this beautiful place of God’s house where so many wonderful milestones have taken place.”

Along with the day of celebration, the cathedral is also the subject of a new documentary, “The Story of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James,” that will premiere on NET-TV on Aug. 14 at 5 p.m. 

Using historical footage, vintage photos, and interviews, the 30-minute documentary looks at the cathedral’s history, as well as the history of the diocese.

“The Story of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James” points out that the cathedral isn’t a relic of the past but a vibrant, modern religious institution. 

“The same Holy Spirit 200 years ago inspired a generation of people to want to build up the church,” Bishop Brennan said in the documentary. “The same Holy Spirit works in the hearts of men and women today.”