Put Out into the Deep

New Co-Cathedral Is a Sign of Hope

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

St. Joseph Co-Cathedral
St. Joseph Co-Cathedral

Just under a year ago, I petitioned the Holy See to name St. Joseph Church in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn as our Co-Cathedral. Some have asked me why do we need a new Co-Cathedral? Is not the Cathedral-Basilica of St. James suitable? Would we be better off making use of our resources elsewhere?

Although I spent most of my life in New Jersey, it feels as though Brooklyn has been my home forever. And I am very proud to call our Diocese my home. The faithful of Brooklyn and Queens are incredibly generous. And, our priests, deacons and religious are nothing less than heroic. Together, we have been through a lot over the years as we witnessed parish and school mergers and consolidations. Currently, we are no longer in the booming phase of our Diocese that seems to give life but rather into maintenance and, in some circumstances, even death.

Fundamentally, I firmly see our future here in Brooklyn and Queens as an optimistic one. In my pastoral visits to our parishes, I personally witness their vitality and life. We have been ordaining an increasing number of fine men to the priesthood each year. The urban blight that has marred so many of our neighborhoods, so characteristic of decline, has given way to new life and development.

When our Diocese was founded in 1853, St. James on Jay Street was designated a Pro-Cathedral when John Loughlin was appointed Bishop of Brooklyn. The hope was that a Cathedral would be built at a later date and time to accommodate the growth throughout the Diocese.

When our Diocese was formed out of the Archdiocese of New York, it stretched from Montauk Point to Downtown Brooklyn. All throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, our Diocese experienced rapid growth. My predecessors set out to purchase large tracts of property to accommodate that expansion.

Since the Council of Baltimore, the Catholic Church made a strategic decision that every parish would have a parochial school associated with it. It was very common for parishes to first establish schools and make use of gymnasiums for Mass. Only after many years would many of these parishes have the financing in place to build churches. Even in the more affluent areas of our Diocese, parishes were simply unable to build a church building and, instead, permanently reconfigured the gymnasiums or auditoriums.

One of our legendary Bishops, Archbishop Thomas Edmund Molloy, the third Bishop of Brooklyn, recognized the rapidly changing needs of those on Long Island and chose to postpone plans to build what was going to be the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Instead, at the intersection of Greene Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue, where the Cathedral was to be constructed, he built what became Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. Indeed, throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s, schools, particularly high schools, were opened to accommodate the baby boomers of that era.

And so, it was this series of events that kept St. James as a Pro-Cathedral. Over time, the hope and even the desire to build a Cathedral faded. Interestingly, it was on Nov. 23, 1972, that Bishop Francis J. Mugavero announced that St. James would no longer be designated a Pro-Cathedral but a Cathedral, and the hope of building a new Cathedral for the Diocese of Brooklyn would formally be extinguished. Ten years later, on May 6, 1982, St. James Cathedral was raised to the status of a basilica.

Shortly after my arrival in our Diocese, I became intrigued with a grand-looking church that I passed very often in my travels around our Diocese. The first time that I walked into the building, I immediately concluded: Now this is a Cathedral.

Interestingly, St. Joseph is adjacent to the new Barclays Center and will be in the midst of the most densely populated blocks in the City of New York. Living in Clinton Hill, I am keenly aware of how many of my neighbors opposed the new arena. Yet today, we all seem to bask in the vitality and life that it has brought to our community.

This year, the excitement of so many in our city surrounding the Brooklyn Nets was contagious. We look forward to 2015 when Barclays Center will become home to the New York Islanders. In a very real way, the arena is becoming a hub for our community.

The Church of Brooklyn needs to be a part of and share in this new life. That is precisely what a Cathedral is meant to be and the reason why certain ceremonial rites are prescribed to take place at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, such as the Chrism Mass and Ordinations.

One of our unique challenges in Brooklyn and Queens is fostering a sense of Diocese. The faithful in Brooklyn resist going to events in Queens, while the faithful in Queens resist coming to Brooklyn. In part, this is because transportation around our City is challenging. Yet, it seems that the arena has been able to finally overcome the difficulty of transportation, with subway lines and the Long Island Railroad and the ease of parking so near to St. Joseph.

My hope is that we can leverage the enormous investment in infrastructure and the corresponding vitality in this community to foster a greater sense of Diocese and Christian community. Moreover, I want St. Joseph Co-Cathedral to be a sign of hope for all of us who can sometimes feel that we are just about the work of maintaining the status quo or, worse yet, going to be the last ones around to shut off the lights.

The funding for the project was secured initially by the generosity of our Catholic Cemeteries, which made a donation to St. Joseph’s, and has not been taken on by other fundraising efforts. Prior to the decline in the stock market, a fund had been established for endowments to St. James and St. Joseph’s. That money was instead used to meet other diocesan obligations after the 2008 recession.

There is also a special feature to make St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral the House of Mary by asking the various ethnic groups of Brooklyn and Queens to fund and install their national Marian patroness in the many domes and on the ceiling inside the church. This will make the Co-Cathedral truly a welcoming place of worship for this Diocese of Immigrants.

I am especially grateful to Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, Vicar for Development, and Coleen Ceriello, Executive Director of Rocklyn Asset Corporation, both of whom have worked so diligently to identify the much needed funds for the refurbishment of St. Joseph’s.

We have put out into the deep in the effort to complete and dedicate the new Co-Cathedral on Saturday, May 3, 2014. This coincides with the dedication of St. Joseph’s Church building 100 years ago. It is fitting that St. Joseph, who is patron of the Universal Church, is patron of our new Co-Cathedral.

I am delighted that we will celebrate this dedication in the shadow of his feast day under the title of “the worker.” My prayer is that we may “go to Joseph” and thus find the Lord who satisfies all of our hungers.