New Marian Shrine in Sheepshead Bay

by Marie Elena Giossi

Despite temperatures in the teens, dozens of parishioners gathered for the blessing and dedication of a Marian Prayer and Memorial Garden at St. Mark Church, Sheepshead Bay, last Sunday, Jan. 15.

Nicholas Gozo lays a floral arrangement at the foot of the black granite monolith, which serves as the focal point of the new Marian Prayer and Memorial Garden at St. Mark’s Church, Sheepshead Bay. The garden, an outgrowth of the parish’s 150th anniversary capital campaign, was made possible by Nicholas Gozo, his wife, Prudy, and their family.

After the 12:30 p.m. Mass, clergy led the congregation outdoors to the newly constructed garden area, located on the Jerome Ave. side of the church. Removed from the busyness of the main thoroughfare, the garden was created as part of the parish’s 150th anniversary campaign to acknowledge and honor the campaign’s major supporters. It was made possible by longtime parishioners Nicholas and Prudy Gozo and their family.

Surrounded by young shrubs, the brick walkway features a two-and-a-half ton black granite monolith flanked by half-ton tablets. The standing stone features a highly detailed, hand-etched image of the Blessed Mother cradling the Christ Child against the backdrop of Sheepshead Bay/Manhattan Beach, identifiable by the presence of St. Mark’s bell tower and a seagull perched upon wooden pilings. Side stones list the names of major benefactors who contributed to the campaign.

Father Joseph Grimaldi, pastor, opened the service expressing his hope that the garden may serve as a reminder “of the close ties of Mary to Christ and His Church.” Calling the garden “a hallmark in our history,” he noted that it “brings the image of Mary into our community. It’s our Madonna of St. Mark in Sheepshead Bay.”

Successful Capital Campaign

The event marked the closing of the parish’s 150th anniversary capital campaign, Prepare, Share, Prosper, which began one year ago. The original goal of $750,000 was surpassed with 310 pledges totaling $916,000, and an average gift of $2,954.

Donations have already funded sidewalk upgrades and replacements, brick repointing; refurbishments to the church’s bronze doors; and repairs to the bell tower. Interior projects are planned for the coming months and additional funds are being set aside for deferred maintenance for the church property.

Father Grimaldi noted that the campaign was “a huge success, not only financially but also involving people in ministry.” He expressed his gratitude for parishioners’ contributions of their treasures and talents, especially the Gozo family for their ongoing financial and ministerial support in the church.

“My hope and prayer as I prepare to leave is that God’s grace will continue through the intercession of Mary to bring blessings upon all of the people in the parish and the community and the generous hearts that have made this possible,” Father Grimaldi said.

The blessing and dedication was one of the final events of Father Grimaldi’s nearly 12-year pastorate at St. Mark. On Jan. 31, he will officially begin his new assignment as territorial episcopal vicar of Brooklyn. Father Christopher Turczany, parochial vicar, will succeed him as pastor.

Following a reading of The Visitation from St. Luke’s Gospel, Fathers Grimaldi and Turczany, and visiting priest, Father Andrew Dunyo, took turns sprinkling holy water upon the stones. Parishioners huddled close as they watched the priests bless an additional plaque inscribed with the names of campaign supporters, which will be placed inside the church.

The Gozos, who wed in the church 55 years ago, stood in the garden area for the dedication with their children, Sara, Nicholas and George.

Along with financial benefactors, Father Grimaldi recognized others who brought this project to fruition. In particular, he thanked Michael Natale, Natale Monuments; etcher Dane Mikolvetch; landscaper Noel Ortiz, Great Outdoors; John Borgia, who oversaw the electrical work; finance committee member Richard Stockley; music director, Patrick Marvello; and Jane Kane, a pre-kindergarten teacher in the parish school who developed the image for the stone.

At the reception that followed, parishioners praised the new addition.

“I grew up in this parish and it’s unlike anything we’ve ever had before,” said Richard Redling. “The garden is absolutely magnificent. It’s a great legacy.”

Redling admits that when he first heard about the project he “wasn’t too sure what it would be all about. We were asked to contribute and I’m glad I did.”

He appreciates that the image of the Madonna and Child “represents us as a seaside community. It depicts who we are and what we’re about.” He’s especially proud that it was designed by “one of the best local artists,” his former classmate at the parish school, Jane Kane.

“It’s a place where we can come for peace and solitude, a place to transcend the everyday and enter a place of spirituality,” shared Michael Von Ahnen, who joined the parish five years ago.

Though he doesn’t know the Gozo family well, he’s grateful for their gift to the community. “This says we’re alive and active,” Von Ahnen said.